Infectious disease forecast expert Wilson joins DHS

James Wilson brings nationally recognized infectious disease forecast expertise to School of Community Health Sciences

8/28/2014 - By: Anne McMillin
Jim Wilson at his computer in his office. James Wilson, recently hired to the faculty of the School of Community Health Sciences, is in the process of developing a University-based, national forecasting center for infectious diseases.

 Against a backdrop of current news about outbreaks of deadly disease, the University of Nevada, Reno's Division of Health Sciences recently announced that an infectious disease forecasting expert has joined the faculty of the School of Community Health Sciences.

James Wilson, M.D., created an algorithm-based mechanism that forecasts the spread of infectious diseases worldwide and is used by the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Defense and other national agencies with interest in monitoring these developments.

Now, as a University faculty member, Wilson is beginning the process of developing a forecasting center to track the spread of infectious diseases in Nevada. The goal is to accurately forecast the growth of such conditions so that preventative measures may be put in place early on to avoid overloading the health care system and putting a strain on precious resources as physicians and health care institutions strive to catch up following an outbreak.

"We took a page from the science of weather forecasting to do the same for diseases ranging from foot-and-mouth disease to strep throat to plantar warts," Wilson explained. "Using the same processes, we can forecast a variety of medical conditions."

"In public health we are most interested in the prevention of disease, and work such as Dr. Wilson's represents an exciting new frontier for early prevention," Trudy Larson, M.D., director of the University's School of Community Health Sciences, said.

Wilson has been involved with the Ebola response in terms of forecasting the spread of the virus and developing public education as to the disease and preventative measures to be taken against it.

"The forecasting we do is a powerful driver to educate people about these diseases and for patient education. Some may even reconsider their belief system on vaccinations and in that way, we can help people make the right choices," he said.

Wilson chose to move his infectious disease forecasting center to Nevada due to the synergy with the University and the people here.

"It was the spirit of collaboration, the willingness to innovate, the existing faculty expertise and the research capacity of this University," he explained, adding that he will be training students in the relatively new discipline of infectious disease forecasting and early warning and growing the next generation of analysts who may go on to work for the private sector, the government or become physicians and health care providers.

In some cases of "stable" diseases, Wilson's forecasting model is accurate enough that he can tell how many cases of a particular disease will be diagnosed on a certain day of a given year.

Wilson, who carries the title of research associate professor at the School of Community Health Sciences, is a board certified pediatrician and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

He is the founder and executive vice president of AscelBio, a for-profit corporation that provides consulting services to its clients for infectious disease risk assessments, and director of the AscelBio National Infectious Disease Forecast Center. 

He is also founder and executive director of Praecipio International, a non-profit corporation dedicated to enhancing and improving international public health and security against biological threats by stimulating collaboration within and offering education to the international, multi-disciplinary humanitarian community. Wilson has served as an infectious-disease advisor to many organizations including the Department of Homeland Security and National Biosurveillance Integration Center, World Health Organization and NASA.


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