Scientists have shown that it is possible to predict the timing and intensity of influenza outbreaks in subtropical climates like Hong Kong with a new system.

In the new study, the researchers used data from a network of 50 outpatient clinics and laboratory reports in Hong Kong from 1998 to 2013 as a test case to retrospectively generate weekly flu forecasts.

The system was able to forecast both the peak timing and peak magnitude for 44 epidemics in 16 years caused by individual influenza strains, including influenza A (H3N2), influenza B, and both seasonal and the 2009 pandemic outbreaks of influenza A (H1N1).

The technique predicted the peak timing of the outbreak three weeks in advance of the actual peak with accuracy as high as 93%. Prediction accuracy varied depending on the strength of the outbreak and how far in advance the prediction was made. In general, forecasts for specific strains were more accurate than those for aggregate epidemics, and the peak and magnitude of outbreaks were more accurate than the timing of their onset or their duration.

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