School of Mathematics and Statistics - Research Publications

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    Rapid assessment of the risk of SARS-CoV-2 importation: case study and lessons learned
    Shearer, FM ; Walker, J ; Tellioglu, N ; McCaw, JM ; McVernon, J ; Black, A ; Geard, N (ELSEVIER, 2022-03-01)
    During the early stages of an emerging disease outbreak, governments are required to make critical decisions on how to respond, despite limited data being available to inform these decisions. Analytical risk assessment is a valuable approach to guide decision-making on travel restrictions and border measures during the early phase of an outbreak. Here we describe a rapid risk assessment framework that was developed in February 2020 to support time-critical decisions on the risk of SARS-CoV-2 importation into Australia. We briefly describe the context in which our framework was developed, the framework itself, and provide an example of the type of decision support provided to the Australian government. We then report a critical evaluation of the modelling choices made in February 2020, assessing the impact of our assumptions on estimated rates of importation, and provide a summary of "lessons learned". The framework presented and evaluated here provides a flexible approach to rapid assessment of importation risk, of relevance to current and future pandemic scenarios.
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    COVID-19 in low-tolerance border quarantine systems: Impact of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2
    Zachreson, C ; Shearer, FM ; Price, DJ ; Lydeamore, MJ ; McVernon, J ; McCaw, J ; Geard, N (AMER ASSOC ADVANCEMENT SCIENCE, 2022-04-01)
    In controlling transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the effectiveness of border quarantine strategies is a key concern for jurisdictions in which the local prevalence of disease and immunity is low. In settings like this such as China, Australia, and New Zealand, rare outbreak events can lead to escalating epidemics and trigger the imposition of large-scale lockdown policies. Here, we develop and apply an individual-based model of COVID-19 to simulate case importation from managed quarantine under various vaccination scenarios. We then use the output of the individual-based model as input to a branching process model to assess community transmission risk. For parameters corresponding to the Delta variant, our results demonstrate that vaccination effectively counteracts the pathogen's increased infectiousness. To prevent outbreaks, heightened vaccination in border quarantine systems must be combined with mass vaccination. The ultimate success of these programs will depend sensitively on the efficacy of vaccines against viral transmission.
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    Assessing the risk of spread of COVID-19 to the Asia Pacific region
    Shearer, F ; Walker, J ; Tellioglu, N ; McCaw, J ; McVernon, J ; Black, A ; Geard, N ( 2020-04-11)
    During the early stages of an emerging disease outbreak, governments are required to make critical decisions on how to respond appropriately, despite limited data being available to inform these decisions. Analytical risk assessment is a valuable approach to guide decision-making on travel restrictions and border measures during the early phase of an outbreak, when transmission is primarily contained within a source country. Here we introduce a modular framework for estimating the importation risk of an emerging disease when the direct travel route is restricted and the risk stems from indirect importation via intermediary countries. This was the situation for Australia in February 2020. The framework was specifically developed to assess the importation risk of COVID-19 into Australia during the early stages of the outbreak from late January to mid-February 2020. The dominant importation risk to Australia at the time of analysis was directly from China, as the only country reporting uncontained transmission. However, with travel restrictions from mainland China to Australia imposed from February 1, our framework was designed to consider the importation risk from China into Australia via potential intermediary countries in the Asia Pacific region. The framework was successfully used to contribute to the evidence base for decisions on border measures and case definitions in the Australian context during the early phase of COVID-19 emergence and is adaptable to other contexts for future outbreak response.
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    Indigenous Australian household structure: a simple data collection tool and implications for close contact transmission of communicable diseases
    vino, T ; Singh, GR ; Davision, B ; Campbell, PT ; Lydeamore, MJ ; Robinson, A ; McVernon, J ; Tong, SYC ; Geard, N (PEERJ INC, 2017-10-26)
    Households are an important location for the transmission of communicable diseases. Social contact between household members is typically more frequent, of greater intensity, and is more likely to involve people of different age groups than contact occurring in the general community. Understanding household structure in different populations is therefore fundamental to explaining patterns of disease transmission in these populations. Indigenous populations in Australia tend to live in larger households than non-Indigenous populations, but limited data are available on the structure of these households, and how they differ between remote and urban communities. We have developed a novel approach to the collection of household structure data, suitable for use in a variety of contexts, which provides a detailed view of age, gender, and room occupancy patterns in remote and urban Australian Indigenous households. Here we report analysis of data collected using this tool, which quantifies the extent of crowding in Indigenous households, particularly in remote areas. We use these data to generate matrices of age-specific contact rates, as used by mathematical models of infectious disease transmission. To demonstrate the impact of household structure, we use a mathematical model to simulate an influenza-like illness in different populations. Our simulations suggest that outbreaks in remote populations are likely to spread more rapidly and to a greater extent than outbreaks in non-Indigenous populations.
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    Characterising pandemic severity and transmissibility from data collected during first few hundred studies
    Black, AJ ; Geard, N ; McCaw, JM ; McVernon, J ; Ross, JV (ELSEVIER SCIENCE BV, 2017-06-01)
    Early estimation of the probable impact of a pandemic influenza outbreak can assist public health authorities to ensure that response measures are proportionate to the scale of the threat. Recently, frameworks based on transmissibility and severity have been proposed for initial characterization of pandemic impact. Data requirements to inform this assessment may be provided by "First Few Hundred" (FF100) studies, which involve surveillance-possibly in person, or via telephone-of household members of confirmed cases. This process of enhanced case finding enables detection of cases across the full spectrum of clinical severity, including the date of symptom onset. Such surveillance is continued until data for a few hundred cases, or satisfactory characterization of the pandemic strain, has been achieved. We present a method for analysing these data, at the household level, to provide a posterior distribution for the parameters of a model that can be interpreted in terms of severity and transmissibility of a pandemic strain. We account for imperfect case detection, where individuals are only observed with some probability that can increase after a first case is detected. Furthermore, we test this methodology using simulated data generated by an independent model, developed for a different purpose and incorporating more complex disease and social dynamics. Our method recovers transmissibility and severity parameters to a high degree of accuracy and provides a computationally efficient approach to estimating the impact of an outbreak in its early stages.
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    Model-Informed Risk Assessment and Decision Making for an Emerging Infectious Disease in the Asia-Pacific Region
    Moss, R ; Hickson, RI ; McVernon, J ; McCaw, JM ; Hort, K ; Black, J ; Madden, JR ; Tran, NH ; McBryde, ES ; Geard, N ; Liang, S (PUBLIC LIBRARY SCIENCE, 2016-09-01)
    BACKGROUND: Effective response to emerging infectious disease (EID) threats relies on health care systems that can detect and contain localised outbreaks before they reach a national or international scale. The Asia-Pacific region contains low and middle income countries in which the risk of EID outbreaks is elevated and whose health care systems may require international support to effectively detect and respond to such events. The absence of comprehensive data on populations, health care systems and disease characteristics in this region makes risk assessment and decisions about the provision of such support challenging. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We describe a mathematical modelling framework that can inform this process by integrating available data sources, systematically explore the effects of uncertainty, and provide estimates of outbreak risk under a range of intervention scenarios. We illustrate the use of this framework in the context of a potential importation of Ebola Virus Disease into the Asia-Pacific region. Results suggest that, across a wide range of plausible scenarios, preemptive interventions supporting the timely detection of early cases provide substantially greater reductions in the probability of large outbreaks than interventions that support health care system capacity after an outbreak has commenced. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Our study demonstrates how, in the presence of substantial uncertainty about health care system infrastructure and other relevant aspects of disease control, mathematical models can be used to assess the constraints that limited resources place upon the ability of local health care systems to detect and respond to EID outbreaks in a timely and effective fashion. Our framework can help evaluate the relative impact of these constraints to identify resourcing priorities for health care system support, in order to inform principled and quantifiable decision making.
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    Social encounter profiles of greater Melbourne residents, by location - a telephone survey
    Rolls, DA ; Geard, NL ; Warr, DJ ; Nathan, PM ; Robins, GL ; Pattison, PE ; McCaw, JM ; McVernon, J (BMC, 2015-11-02)
    BACKGROUND: Models of infectious disease increasingly seek to incorporate heterogeneity of social interactions to more accurately characterise disease spread. We measured attributes of social encounters in two areas of Greater Melbourne, using a telephone survey. METHODS: A market research company conducted computer assisted telephone interviews (CATIs) of residents of the Boroondara and Hume local government areas (LGAs), which differ markedly in ethnic composition, age distribution and household socioeconomic status. Survey items included household demographic and socio-economic characteristics, locations visited during the preceding day, and social encounters involving two-way conversation or physical contact. Descriptive summary measures were reported and compared using weight adjusted Wald tests of group means. RESULTS: The overall response rate was 37.6%, higher in Boroondara [n = 650, (46%)] than Hume [n = 657 (32%)]. Survey conduct through the CATI format was challenging, with implications for representativeness and data quality. Marked heterogeneity of encounter profiles was observed across age groups and locations. Household settings afforded greatest opportunity for prolonged close contact, particularly between women and children. Young and middle-aged men reported more age-assortative mixing, often with non-household members. Preliminary comparisons between LGAs suggested that mixing occurred in different settings. In addition, gender differences in mixing with household and non-household members, including strangers, were observed by area. CONCLUSIONS: Survey administration by CATI was challenging, but rich data were obtained, revealing marked heterogeneity of social behaviour. Marked dissimilarities in patterns of prolonged close mixing were demonstrated by gender. In addition, preliminary observations of between-area differences in socialisation warrant further evaluation.
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    The effects of demographic change on disease transmission and vaccine impact in a household structured population
    Geard, N ; Glass, K ; McCaw, JM ; McBryde, ES ; Korb, KB ; Keeling, MJ ; McVernon, J (ELSEVIER, 2015-12-01)
    The demographic structure of populations in both more developed and less developed countries is changing: increases in life expectancy and declining fertility have led to older populations and smaller households. The implications of these demographic changes for the spread and control of infectious diseases are not fully understood. Here we use an individual based model with realistic and dynamic age and household structure to demonstrate the marked effect that demographic change has on disease transmission at the population and household level. The decline in fertility is associated with a decrease in disease incidence and an increase in the age of first infection, even in the absence of vaccination or other control measures. Although large households become rarer as fertility decreases, we show that there is a proportionate increase in incidence of disease in these households as the accumulation of susceptible clusters increases the potential for explosive outbreaks. By modelling vaccination, we provide a direct comparison of the relative importance of demographic change and vaccination on incidence of disease. We highlight the increased risks associated with unvaccinated households in a low fertility setting if vaccine behaviour is correlated with household membership. We suggest that models that do not account for future demographic change, and especially its effect on household structure, may potentially overestimate the impact of vaccination.