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Elucidating Transmission Patterns From Internet Reports: Ebola and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome as Case Studies.

Abstract

The paucity of traditional epidemiological data during epidemic emergencies calls for alternative data streams to characterize the key features of an outbreak, including the nature of risky exposures, the reproduction number, and transmission heterogeneities. We illustrate the potential of Internet data streams to improve preparedness and response in outbreak situations by drawing from recent work on the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the 2015 Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in South Korea. We show that Internet reports providing detailed accounts of epidemiological clusters are particularly useful to characterize time trends in the reproduction number. Moreover, exposure patterns based on Internet reports align with those derived from epidemiological surveillance data on MERS and Ebola, underscoring the importance of disease amplification in hospitals and during funeral rituals (associated with Ebola), prior to the implementation of control interventions. Finally, we discuss future developments needed to generalize Internet-based approaches to study transmission dynamics.

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