Early warning systems can be crucial for minimising the severity of disease outbreaks. However, outbreaks of dengue fever in Brazil often appear to occur without warning, overwhelming the local health services. Thus, improvements to early warning systems are critical for reducing disease risk and giving health services the best possible chance of dealing with any outbreak quickly and efficiently.
Publishing in eLife this week, Lowe et al evaluate risk forecasts of dengue fever from the 2014 FIFA World Cup – a time when 3 million people from all over the world descended on Brazil to watch “The Beautiful Game”. Comparing the risk model with actual reported cases, the forecasts were correct 57% of the time – not exactly perfect, but a vast improvement over the 33% prediction based on seasonal dengue averages alone. The dengue risk level was correctly predicted in seven out of 12 World Cup cities, but it failed in São Paulo and Brasília, highlighting that there is still lots of work to be done to get to grips with the environmental triggers for the disease.
The recent Zika outbreaks have made all of us all too aware of the importance of getting to grips with disease risk prediction – hopefully the improvements in 2014 will translate to even better predictions during the 2016 Summer Olympics, when once again millions of people will flock to Brazil another feast of sporting prowess.