Data: The Key to Effective Outbreak Responses

To hear more from our experts about lessons learned from previous outbreaks, join us for a free webinar “Successful Outbreak Responses Depend on Reliable Data” on Thursday, May 21.

Scientific articles about COVID-19 seem to multiply daily, with the total reaching nearly 15,000 as of May 12. In this age of technology, information — and misinformation — spread quickly through social media platforms, online news sites and mobile messaging, making it challenging to evaluate the accuracy of what we read.

As our inboxes and phones are flooded with COVID-19-related content, it’s no wonder that 71% of Americans recently reported the need to take breaks from coronavirus news. About half further reported that they find it difficult to determine what is true.

At times like this, it is helpful to go back to basics. What data do we need to inform our response to a new infectious disease threat? In the presence of a novel virus for which we have little to no information, what is the best approach to minimize the risks?

At FHI Clinical, we tap into knowledge gained from past experiences. Until we know the severity and lethality of a new infectious disease, we can use data from similar diseases and other outbreaks to inform our response.

This is not the first coronavirus the world has encountered, but what from past experiences with other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS can we use to inform our early response to this coronavirus? And what can we learn from other outbreaks that the FHI Clinical team has responded to, like Zika, chikungunya, Ebola and malaria?

The underlying data requirements remain the same — reliable, high-quality data to inform our response in terms of:

Finally, how do we communicate the urgency of the situation without causing panic so that the public responds appropriately? Then, as we gather data and a better understanding of the disease, how should we adjust our recommendations in a way that is not confusing?

Our team has learned firsthand that, regardless of the country, engaging the community is of the utmost importance. Clear messaging that is delivered by respected community members in a way that everyone can understand helps gain buy-in for proposed strategies. Whether it’s social distancing, use of personal protective equipment such as masks, or altering burial customs, when we’re asking people to fundamentally change their lives, we need to use the best possible data as the basis for decisions.

Join our webinar where we’ll discuss more about the importance of data in an outbreak response.

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