skip to main content
Today So Far Blog
virus coronavirus covid
Enlarge Icon

What if we could see an outbreak coming?

What if scientists could see a virus outbreak coming, before the virus is even identified?

That could be possible, according to new research published by a team at the University of Washington.

Lead author Dr. Natalie Cobb says it comes down to testing people for the flu. If numerous people have symptoms, but test negative for influenza, we might have a new virus on our hands, or an outbreak of a known virus starting up,

They can find out through surveillance of data. Dr. Cobb studied 28 countries, and found that an unknown illness spiked in 16 out of 28 regions, long before Covid was identified.

"If there are big deviations it may kind of serve as an early warning signal to epidemiologists or public health officials to say, ‘Hey there may be something unusual going on here,'" Dr. Cobb said.

In hindsight, that's what happened with Covid-19.

Cobb's team found that illnesses resembling the flu jumped up about 3 months before the first confirmed peaks of Covid in 2020. She says this indicates data surveillance could be utilized much more than it is now, to watch for upcoming outbreaks.