Population Health

March 16, 2023

Data science seminar explores approaches to understanding respiratory virus transmission

Image of Helen Chu presentingThe University of Washington Population Health Initiative and eScience Institute offered a two-part seminar series, “Pop Health Data Science,” during winter quarter 2023 to explore the application of data science methodologies to improve population health.

Dr. Helen Chu (pictured), an associate professor of medicine (allergy and infectious diseases), led the seminar, “Community-based approaches to understanding respiratory virus transmission,” on February 2, 2023. Chu focused her discussion on the integration between clinical and laboratory data from the Seattle Flu Study, which allowed for an understanding of the community spread of respiratory viruses in a major metropolitan area.

In 2018, Chu and her team began researching the possibility of a pandemic occurring in the near future. In response, the researchers developed the Seattle Flu Study, a pandemic surveillance platform that utilized take-home nasal self-swab kits that could be used to identify new pathogens and develop strategies for rapid containment of the applicable pathogen.

To support this study, Chu and her team spent a lot of time and effort building trusted relationships with diverse sectors of the community. By doing so, the research team was able to develop the trust needed to test patients in public spaces such as workplaces, schools, transit centers, homeless shelters and so forth. Accessibility was also tested by creating a take-home swab kit where patients would follow short instructions and then mail their swab back to the lab, with the lab results available online within 24 to 48 hours.

With the Seattle Flu Study in place, Chu and her team were able to leverage lessons learned to quickly make the pivot to focus on the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, identifying at the time what was the first documented case of community transmission in the United States. Her team also led Husky Coronavirus Testing, which enrolled thousands of UW students, faculty and staff and was based on the lessons and infrastructure of the Seattle Flu Study.

Watch the Recorded Seminar >