MIDAS Webinar: Dr. Karen Holcomb

October 28, 2022


October 28, 2022


The MIDAS Webinar Series features research by MIDAS members, and is open to the public. 

Date: Friday, October 28th, 2022
Time: 12:00pm – 1:00pm Eastern (USA)

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Topic: Evaluating West Nile virus prediction in the United States

Speaker: Dr. Karen Holcomb, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Abstract: West Nile virus (WNV) is the leading cause of mosquito-borne illness in the continental United States, but the annual occurrence of human cases exhibits high spatiotemporal variation and resources for control are limited. Therefore, accurate forecasts are of high public health importance. In 2020 and 2022, the CDC Epidemic Predictive Initiative and the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists coordinated West Nile virus Forecasting Challenges. The prediction outcome of these open Challenges was the total number of human WNV neuroinvasive disease cases (WNND) that would be reported per county in the continental United States for that year. We used the submitted forecasts from the 2020 WNV Challenge (N = 30), to systematically evaluate WNND prediction and identify strengths and weaknesses of current prediction. We assessed forecast accuracy and compared predictive performance across models. We also evaluated county-level factors associated with variation in forecast performance and identified that models with climatic factors performed better. Seventeen forecasts were submitted for the 2022 WNV Challenge and will be evaluated in a similar manner upon finalization of case counts for 2022. Because WNV is a climate-sensitive disease and to build upon a finding from the 2020 WNV Challenge, we are using random forest analyses to identify predictive weather variables impacting the location and number of WNND cases annually. Identification of region-specific climate drivers of WNV can improve the early-warning capacity of WNV predictions to guide the timely use of resources in locations at increased likelihood of WNND cases.

Bio: Dr. Karen Holcomb recently completed her training as the Climate and Health postdoc with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As the postdoc, her research focused on integrating climate data to improve predictions of vector-borne diseases. She earned a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of California, Davis where she investigated the spatiotemporal impacts of adult mosquito control on West Nile virus transmission. She is now a Biologist at the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases and will focus on prediction and control of bacterial vector-borne pathogens.  


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