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School and Program Updates

School and Program Updates

Columbia Addresses Issue of Preparedness with Activities and Research Initiatives

The Center for Infection and Immunity (CII) is one of the world’s most advanced academic centers for research in disease surveillance, diagnosis and discovery in acute and chronic illnesses. CII has established unique partnerships with academic and public health institutions and governmental agencies in over 40 countries to provide expertise in managing outbreaks and assistance with pathogen discovery, training and surveillance.

Over the past year, CII announced several technological innovations and research findings related to the detection of infectious disease.

For the first time, scientists discovered a new ebola virus species in a host prior to detection in an infected human or sick animal. The discovery by the research team co-led by CII of the Bombali virus in bats in Sierra Leone and the sequencing of the complete genome was published in the journal Nature Microbiology in August, a month after the Sierra Leone government announced preliminary findings. The work is part of the PREDICT Ebola Host Project, funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

Earlier in the year, CII researchers published a paper in the journal mBio on the development a new test that extends the window for accurate detection of Zika virus. The test improves on existing options by providing an accurate and cost-effective means to determine whether a patient was infected, days or months after exposure. This new blood test called ZIKV-NS2B-concat ELISA is faster, less expensive, and extends the window of accurate detection from weeks to months after the onset of infection, giving clinicians a powerful new tool to screen for Zika throughout pregnancy.

Two papers reported on a novel genetic sequencing method developed by CII. The first reported on the use of the method, called VirCapSeq-VERT, to identify viral pathogens behind unexplained respiratory illnesses in Uganda over a five-year period. The method identified nine clusters of infections, including one potentially related to tourism from the U.K. Findings were published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. In a second paper in mSphere, researchers compared VirCapSeq-VERT and unbiased high-throughput sequencing in the identification of potential viruses behind unexplained fever in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Both methods yielded similar results. However, VirCapSeq-VERT was more efficient.

In a New York City-based study, CII researchers discovered antibiotic-resistant bacteria in house mice. The study in mBio reported that these mice carry bacteria that could infect humans, and could be responsible for mild to life-threatening gastroenteritis in people. They found evidence that some of these bacteria may be resistant to antibiotics.

Forecast of Infectious Disease

Infectious disease modeling experts at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, led by Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, continue development and dissemination of operational infectious disease forecasting systems. These include real-time weekly predictions of influenza incidence in cities and states across the U.S. (presented operationally in real time at the Columbia Prediction of Infectious Diseases (CPID) website), as well as forecasting systems for West Nile virus, respiratory syncytial virus and dengue.

The forecasting systems adapt model-inference techniques used in modern weather prediction to create local forecasts of future incidence by locality.

Flu forecast website features include: an interactive map of the U.S. displaying the relative severity of seasonal flu in cities across the country with flu and incidence numbers for each; influenza incidence predictions by city for the coming weeks; a map illustrating the proportion of flu cases by region; and charts comparing the timing and severity of the four most recent flu seasons.

Dr. Shaman and colleagues are working to expand the number of infectious disease prediction systems and to improve existing forecasting methodologies. To this end, they are running an intensive, active surveillance program for influenza and other respiratory pathogens in the urban Manhattan environment with the aims of significantly advancing understanding of transmission dynamics, documenting the genetic basis of immune response to respiratory virus infection, bettering now-casting capabilities, and improving respiratory disease model simulation and forecast.

Columbia Public Health leads the Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education (GCCHE), an international forum for health professions schools that are committed to developing and instituting climate change and health curriculum, in order to ensure a future cadre of highly trained health professionals who will be able to prepare and protect society from the harmful effects of climate disruption.

Institutions interested in joining the GCCHE should visit Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education.