Forecasting Epidemics Through Nonparametric Estimation of Time-Dependent Transmission Rates Using the SEIR Model

  • Alexandra Smirnova
  • Linda deCamp
  • Gerardo Chowell
Special Issue: Mathematical Epidemiology


Deterministic and stochastic methods relying on early case incidence data for forecasting epidemic outbreaks have received increasing attention during the last few years. In mathematical terms, epidemic forecasting is an ill-posed problem due to instability of parameter identification and limited available data. While previous studies have largely estimated the time-dependent transmission rate by assuming specific functional forms (e.g., exponential decay) that depend on a few parameters, here we introduce a novel approach for the reconstruction of nonparametric time-dependent transmission rates by projecting onto a finite subspace spanned by Legendre polynomials. This approach enables us to effectively forecast future incidence cases, the clear advantage over recovering the transmission rate at finitely many grid points within the interval where the data are currently available. In our approach, we compare three regularization algorithms: variational (Tikhonov’s) regularization, truncated singular value decomposition (TSVD), and modified TSVD in order to determine the stabilizing strategy that is most effective in terms of reliability of forecasting from limited data. We illustrate our methodology using simulated data as well as case incidence data for various epidemics including the 1918 influenza pandemic in San Francisco and the 2014–2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa.


Parameter estimation Regularization Volterra equation 


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Copyright information

© Society for Mathematical Biology 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexandra Smirnova
    • 1
  • Linda deCamp
    • 1
  • Gerardo Chowell
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Mathematics and StatisticsGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.School of Public HealthGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

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