Alessandro Vespignani

Flu Season Is Coming and Covid-19 Is Still Here. Can Disease Forecasts Tell Them Apart?

Every year, as winter approaches, the United States gets ready for a potential epidemic. This year, the country is preparing to handle two.

Influenza, or the seasonal flu, kills between 12,000 and 61,000 people in the U.S. annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current COVID-19 pandemic has already been responsible for more than 200,000 deaths in the U.S. this year.

Both viruses attack the respiratory system and can have similar symptoms. For researchers trying to track these viruses and predict their spread, untangling them will be a challenge.

“Something like this is completely unprecedented,” says Alessandro Vespignani, Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor of physics, computer science, and health sciences, and director of Northeastern’s Network Science Institute. “Having a major pandemic and then trying to get insight on the seasonal flu—it’s a completely new game.”

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Network Science Program