University researchers help track Covid-19 outbreaks

5 Jul 2021

Prof. Colleen Lau

A senior member of GCI’s Digital Health Research Network has helped deliver a new web-based platform (Crisper) to make pandemic data and information more easily accessible to the public.

UQ and Australian National University researchers, led by UQ's Professor Colleen Lau, have created the program to consolidate health data from a variety of government web sites.

Professor Lau told GCI that knowing what's happening in real time and where and how things were evolving over time was important for informing an appropriate, quick and accurate response during a pandemic.

“At the moment, one of the biggest constraints is access to surveillance data,” Professor Lau says.

“So as an example, if covid data were really available in great detail and you could see the number of cases in certain locations over the last couple of weeks, as a member of a general public, that might influence your decision about whether you're going to go out for non-essential activities around your home.”

“As a clinician, if I know what's going on around my clinic, I can use that to see what the risk is for myself or my staff, my patients and as a public health responder obviously that helps with contact tracing, outbreak response, etc.”

Crisper’s developers caution however that there can be circumstances when the app should be considered a guide rather than an authority.

They note that when government data doesn't contain coordinates for the reported locations, the Crisper software attempts to automatically determine the coordinate location based on the location information provided.

The software's developers say that while this is generally successful, in some cases the provided information may be insufficient for an accurate location, and points may be misplaced.

Crisper table

Professor Lau is an NHMRC Fellow and Professorial Research Fellow at the UQ School of Public Health.

Her areas of expertise include emerging infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases, and clinical travel medicine.

Her interests include infectious disease epidemiology, spatial epidemiology and disease mapping, infectious disease surveillance and elimination, vaccinations, travel health, environmental health, and digital decision support tools.

Professor Lau’s research projects focus on answering practical questions in clinical management of infectious diseases and operational questions on improving strategies to solve public health problems.

More information about the Global Change Institute's Digital Health Research Network is available here.