UF experts join with partners at UNC and Johns Hopkins in creation of CDC-funded center for outbreak forecasting

illustration of Chikungunya virus
Illustration of chikungunya virus, a mosquito-borne RNA virus that can cause outbreaks of a debilitating arthritis-like disease.

Two University of Florida infectious disease experts are part of a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded outbreak analytics and disease modeling network that is designed to help the nation respond more quickly and effectively during public health emergencies.

Derek Cummings, Ph.D., a professor of biology in the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an associate director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, and Matt Hitchings, S.D., an assistant professor of biostatistics at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and an Emerging Pathogens Institute member, are partners in the Atlantic Coast Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and Analytics, or ACCIDDA. It is one of 13 centers announced September 19 as part of the CDC’s Outbreak Analytics and Disease Modeling Network and will serve as the coordinating center of the network.

“Each of the grantees will help us move the nation forward in our efforts to better prepare and respond to infectious disease outbreaks that threaten our families and our communities,” said Dylan George, director of the CDC Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics. “We are committed to working alongside these outstanding partners to achieve our goal of using data and advanced analytics to support decision-makers at every level of government.”

This network of centers involves close collaboration between academic partners and state agencies in order to gather data, develop models and provide training to support public health agencies in decision-making in future outbreak scenarios. ACCIDDA will be led by Justin Lessler, Ph.D., and Kim Powers, Ph.D., at the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, along with Shaun Truelove, Ph.D., at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. ACCIDDA will receive more than $22 million dollars in funding from the CDC.

“This foundational work would have greatly enhanced our understanding of key features of COVID-19 and other pathogens to forecast the threat that each pathogen presents, guide policy decisions, and optimally allocate intervention,” Hitchings said.

Cummings and Hitchings will support the ACCIDDA in developing data sharing platforms and models of scenarios related to viruses spread by biting insects, including dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya. These diseases, also known as arboviruses, are endemic to parts of the United States, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and modeling the potential benefit of vaccination and other interventions in these contexts will provide valuable support to local health authorities. Meanwhile, with increasing movement of people across the globe and changing distribution of mosquitoes, the threat of a large outbreak of a new or previously eradicated arbovirus, such as yellow fever, is growing.

“Understanding the potential magnitude of these threats, and building expertise to rapidly inform decisions in the event, is critical to a robust public health response,” Cummings said.