ATLANTA—A new set of forecasts created by researchers at the Georgia State University School of Public Health project a decline in new monkeypox infections but raise doubts about whether the viral disease can be eradicated from the United States.
The latest forecasts, which were posted online today, project 4,665 new cases through Sept. 15. The forecasts are based on a first-of-its kind model that Gerardo Chowell, a professor in the department of population health sciences in the School of Public Health, and his colleagues first published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2019. The model has since been applied to outbreaks of SARS, Ebola, COVID-19 and, most recently, monkeypox.
“Overall, the forecasts show a slowdown in new monkeypox infections,” said Chowell. “Educational campaigns and the media are helping inform the public, and I think that is helping curb the outbreak. I’m not sure if that’s enough to bring it extinction, but it will probably help bring infections to very low levels.”
Chowell cautioned against interpreting his team’s forecasts as a reason for people to let down their guard. He urged people to continue following prevention guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Information can influence people’s behaviors,” he said, “and people’s behavior influences the course of an outbreak.”
The forecasts that Chowell and his colleagues develop rely on a statistical approach that aggregates the results of models that vary based on factors such as geography and mode of transmission. For COVID-19, their model outperforms forecasts created by a commonly used class of models known as ARIMA 68% of the time. The models created by Chowell and his team are refined as new data become available and the forecast number of cases is compared against the actual number of cases over a given period.
In addition to helping inform the public, the forecasts can help health officials more clearly understand the size of an outbreak and more effectively deploy awareness and vaccination campaigns. Chowell said that despite a declining number of infections, monkeypox remains a formidable challenge.
“Monkeypox is very different from what we saw with COVID-19 because it is spread by close contact and not through airborne transmission,” Chowell said. “Even though we’re in a much a better position compared to COVID, it has still spread widely and become a national and global health emergency.”
Chowell and his colleagues at the Georgia State University School of Public Health—doctoral students Amanda Bleichrodt and Sushma Dahal—will post new forecasts weekly at https://publichealth.gsu.edu/research/monkeypox-forecasting-center/.