Predicting influenza hospitalizations
Seasonal influenza epidemics are a major public health concern, causing three to five million cases of severe illness and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide. Given the unpredictability of these epidemics, hospitals and health authorities are often left unprepared to handle the sudden surge in demand. Hence early detection of disease activity is fundamental to reduce the burden on the healthcare system, to provide the most effective care for infected patients and to optimize the timing of control efforts. Early detection requires reliable forecasting methods that make efficient use of surveillance data. We developed a dynamic Bayesian estimator to predict weekly hospitalizations due to influenza related illnesses in the state of Texas. The prediction of peak hospitalizations using our model is accurate both in terms of number of hospitalizations and the time at which the peak occurs. For 1-to 8 week predictions, the predicted number of hospitalizations was within 8% of actual value and the predicted time of occurrence was within a week of actual peak.