According to recent reports, avian influenza (bird flu) is spreading through the Midwest along the Mississippi Flyway via migratory waterfowl, a development that the UI College of Public Health’s Dr. Jacob Oleson and a colleague at the University of Missouri predicted in a paper published in the Journal of Applied Statistics in 2012.
Dr. Oleson, an associate professor of biostatistics, said that he and co-author Dr. Chris Wikle were both interested in developing statistical models that could capture the spatial progression of infectious disease and then predict it forward. “Avian flu was a hot topic at the time,” he said, “and we thought one way for the disease to spread quickly geographically would be through migratory waterfowl.”
Utilizing many years of migration data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Band Recovery program, they created a statistical model that demonstrated this hunch was correct as avian influenza has been discovered in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Minnesota as well as other U.S. migration areas.
While avian flu is deadly to birds, avian viruses normally pose no threat to humans. Ducks, geese, and other waterfowl are passive carriers of the virus, transmitting the disease to other birds without becoming ill. Iowa poultry and animal health officials are concerned that the disease could make its way into the large poultry production flocks in the state and are reminding producers to strictly follow the biosecurity measures to head-off any potential danger.
Although Drs. Oleson and Wikle’s predictive model was developed specifically for Avian Influenza, Dr. Oleson said that the framework is being used successfully in other scenarios including his modification to the technique to predict the spread of glaucoma in individual eyes. Dr. Wikle also has collaborators in Australia who are using the technique to model pollutant load contributions to the Great Barrier Reef.