The concept of a weather forecast doesn’t make you think twice, but a flu forecast? Now that might cause you to do a double-take.

While the science of weather forecasting has been accepted as a standard feature of smartphones and newscasts for years, flu forecasting—or, for that matter, disease forecasts in general—haven’t been as easily accessible. That, however, is a situation researchers at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech plan to change.

The key to this transformation will be the disease surveillance platform EpiCaster, a tool that allows scientists to forecast how a specific region will be affected by the flu weeks before an outbreak occurs. Today, the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech announces a strategic partnership with AccuWeather that will place the institute’s cutting-edge science on the AccuWeather platform.

The partnership between the Biocomplexity Institute and AccuWeather could dramatically change the level of flu knowledge and awareness for people across the U.S.

“We laud AccuWeather for utilizing its academic background to be forward-thinking and recognize an opportunity to adapt innovative research techniques into an information platform that people already use to help guide their day-to-day decision-making. This strategic partnership ensures our research will have an even greater impact in reducing the economic and public health burdens of influenza,” says Bryan Lewis, a research associate professor and the team’s resident expert in infectious disease modeling.

This collaboration will allow AccuWeather to leverage data derived from years of research and refinement of the institute’s EpiCaster disease surveillance platform to help warn people weeks ahead of a potential flu outbreak. It’s a partnership that will join the extensive reach of the AccuWeather platform with the large-scale analytics and epidemiological models of the Biocomplexity Institute.

“This innovative, strategic partnership between AccuWeather and Virginia Tech enables brands to reach customers with relevant messages to offer contextually relevant information to help inform their decisions before the flu’s impact begins,” said Eric Danetz, global chief revenue officer of AccuWeather. “Using the most accurate flu predictions to deliver helpful, targeted information further enhances AccuWeather’s unique capability to help brands deliver the optimal message that is timely, targeted, and more likely to be positively received.”

Researchers originally developed EpiCaster on the Biocomplexity Institute’s high-performance computing clusters to help guide the U.S. government’s response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The disease surveillance and forecast platform uses a rigorously tested methodology documented in several articles published by peer-reviewed journals, including Epidemics and BMC Infectious Diseases.

“The flu predictions we make for AccuWeather are generated from EpiCaster, a causality-driven epidemic forecasting pipeline,” says Jiangzhuo Chen, the research associate professor at the institute who built the forecasting engine, EpiCaster. “It is unique in the sense that it integrates big data analytics, causal modeling and machine learning, giving the public deep insight into the 5W's of flu season—where, when, what, who, and why—as well as how they should react to protect themselves and their families.”

“U.S., state and local governments currently use this sophisticated disease surveillance system which utilizes large data collections from a wide array of sources, including the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and social media,” says Madhav Marathe, professor of computer science and a lab director of the Biocomplexity Institute. “It allows us to provide highly reliable predictions on how epidemics are likely to evolve and spread.”

“This collaboration between AccuWeather and institute researchers will allow our team to map locations where flu outbreaks are on the rise,” said Scott Sameroff, director of business development for digital at AccuWeather. “We will now be able to benefit AccuWeather app users and helping protect individuals and families during seasonal flu outbreaks.”

According to the CDC, it takes about two weeks after a flu vaccination for it to protect against the virus, and recommends everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated as a preventative measure. Click here for other recommendations from the CDC to prevent infection.

About AccuWeather, Inc. and

Nearly 2 billion people worldwide rely on AccuWeather to help them plan their lives, protect their businesses, and get more from their day. AccuWeather provides hourly and Minute by Minute™ forecasts with Superior Accuracy™ with customized content and engaging video presentations available on smartphones, tablets, free wired and mobile Internet sites, connected TVs, and Internet appliances, as well as via radio, television, and newspapers. Established in 1962 by Founder, President, and Chairman Dr. Joel N. Myers -- a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society who was recognized as one of the top entrepreneurs in American history by Entrepreneur Magazine's Encyclopedia of Entrepreneurs -- AccuWeather also delivers a wide range of highly customized enterprise solutions to media, business, government, and institutions, as well as news, weather content, and video for more than 180,000 third-party websites.


About the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech

This research institute strives to overcome today's challenges in human health, security, and sustainability by focusing on information biology, using high-performance computers to translate complex biological data into actionable knowledge. The institute does this by adapting to the ever-changing research environment by investing in the best people and resources; creating transdisciplinary teams of experts that span the globe; and seizing opportunities to push science forward by inventing cutting-edge tools and sharing them. Founded as the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute in 2000, the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech has grown from its roots in plant pathology to a vibrant research institute spanning a multitude of disciplines including network dynamics, high-performance computing, and genomics research. The institute regularly conducts research through federal, state and industry grants and contracts that total more than $120 million in active awards, and has garndered some of the largest awards in Virginia Tech history. Its work has been used to sequence the genomes of many organisms. The institute also has been called upon to aid in public health crises and strategic planning around the globe.

Published by Becky Freemal, November 29, 2017
Tags: 2018 Research Showcase