Systems biology and ratio-based, real-time disease surveillance.
Most infectious disease surveillance methods are not well fit for early detection. To address such limitation, here we evaluated a ratio- and Systems Biology-based method that does not require prior knowledge on the identity of an infective agent. Using a reference group of birds experimentally infected with West Nile virus (WNV) and a problem group of unknown health status (except that they were WNV-negative and displayed inflammation), both groups were followed over 22 days and tested with a system that analyses blood leucocyte ratios. To test the ability of the method to discriminate small data sets, both the reference group (n=5) and the problem group (n=4) were small. The questions of interest were as follows: (i) whether individuals presenting inflammation (disease-positive or D+) can be distinguished from non-inflamed (disease-negative or D-) birds, (ii) whether two or more D+ stages can be detected and (iii) whether sample size influences detection. Within the problem group, the ratio-based method distinguished the following: (i) three (one D- and two D+) data classes; (ii) two (early and late) inflammatory stages; (iii) fast versus regular or slow responders; and (iv) individuals that recovered from those that remained inflamed. Because ratios differed in larger magnitudes (up to 48 times larger) than percentages, it is suggested that data patterns are likely to be recognized when disease surveillance methods are designed to measure inflammation and utilize ratios.