The Geospatial Health Team at Telethon Kids Institute / Curtin University, led by Prof Peter Gething, has more than a decade of experience in modelling infectious diseases, and is the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Geospatial Disease Modelling. Focusing in normal times on malaria, we have now pivoted to direct our capacity to COVID -19 modelling and are part of the consortium of disease modelling groups across Australia working collaboratively to inform Federal policy in conjunction with the Doherty Institute, Melbourne.
We are developing a sophisticated COVID-19 modelling framework that is tailored to Western Australia: its population structure and mobility; its outbreak status; and its response capability.
The State Government has partnered with Telethon Kids Institute to conduct the DETECT Schools Study to learn more about any undetected COVID-19 among school students and staff without symptoms. The study involves swab testing of students and staff in 40 schools to look for any asymptomatic COVID-19 and a wellbeing survey of 80 schools, including the 40 participating in the swab testing, and a further 40 from across the State.
The survey is anticipated to increase the understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of children and families in Western Australia and assist in formulating informed responses to community needs.
The DETECT Schools Program follows the end of the DETECT Snapshot Program, which tested asymptomatic adults from a selection of employment groups.
The COCOON Study will enable us to understand behaviour of COVID-19 in families and patterns of infection as well as to understand impact on mental of infants, young children, parents and grandparents to assist individual participant with mental health issues, inform future clinical care pathways and public policy. It builds on an existing study in the ORIGINS project that was already focussed on respiratory virus exposures during the first years of life.
There are two key elements of the COCOON study. Firstly, it would allow us to understand the behaviour of the virus within families by looking at patterns of infection within three generations of the same family, and identify biological risk factors for infection and disease severity within individuals.
Secondly it would help us to understand the behaviour and mental health of families during an unprecedented, community-wide, existential threat.
Epidemiologists and infectious disease researchers at Telethon Kids Institute are planning to implement several studies to enhance our understanding of COVID-19 in the Western Australian community setting. The impact of COVID-19 on children's health appears to be mild, and early research suggests transmission is more common from adults to children. Household and school transmission studies will help researchers learn more about this.
For household transmission, studies will follow all household members of children diagnosed with COVID-19 to see how it might be transmitted between families. This will help determine how seriously the disease affects children versus the elderly, and find out how this disease may change the characteristics of other common respiratory infections like influenza.
COVID-19 can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours, so further studies will focus on looking at schools and homes with a positive case so that high touch surfaces can be swabbed and tested. This will inform policy on cleaning and future pandemic preparedness.
CI's: Associate Professor Chris Blyth, Associate Professor Asha Bowen, Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases
With our colleagues from eleven institutions, including Curtin University and WA Health services, this study will have implications at all stages of the patients’ journey – informing treatment strategies whilst in intensive care and tailoring rehabilitation programs for individual patients.
Coronavirus infection affects people in different ways, some have no or very mild symptoms, others have severe life threatening disease. At this time, we don’t know how long it takes for people to recover from Coronavirus infection and what effect it has on peoples’ lungs and conditions they had before, like asthma.
During Coronavirus infection, the lungs may become damaged by inflammation and the body’s own immune response. This is called acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS. ARDS can occur after many different infections, or after major operations or trauma. Following these insults, we know the lungs of those patients affected by ARDS may take years to recover. Overall ‘physical ability’ is also impaired for a long time due to damage to the heart and lungs. However, because COVID-19 is so new, we do not know whether the same is true. This study will establish whether there is long-term lung damage following COVID pneumonia. It will also see whether this affects patients’ overall speed and degree of physical recovery and rehabilitation, as well as their ability to go back to their usual activities including work.
We are partnering on the Clinical Data and Analytics Platform (CDAP), a national platform to support the Australian response to the COVID-19 pandemic, through the Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC).
There are currently no known effective treatments for COVID-19 and it is apparent that there is an urgent need to determine what works, what doesn't, and in whom. In response, we are building a learning health system whose aim is to save lives by keeping people out of hospital and out of intensive care (ICU) by generating and using knowledge in close to real time.
The CDAP incorporates the broad and rapidly accumulating data about COVID-19 and converts it to knowledge, using a mathematical model, to help us understand the disease better. This knowledge can then be used by clinicians to help them manage suspected or proven COVID-19 patients using a web-based tool, which is constantly being updated as more data become available. In essence, this means doctors can give the most up-to-date and appropriate healthcare for each individual patient.
We propose to create an online database to support national and international research into the prevention, treatment and diagnostics of COVID-19. The system will integrate the rapid global flow of COVID-19 related molecular data into a centralised picture of the disease. The data, freely accessible to the research community, will facilitate hypothesis generation, allow researchers to exchange, compare and contrast findings from their functional studies and clinical trials and minimise duplication of research efforts. Furthermore, by providing well-curated data sets, the system will facilitate the application of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) approaches to identify preventative interventions and treatments.
Our team of behavioural scientists and infectious disease experts are working with an international team of scientists from more than 30 countries to develop an online tool that allows people to calculate their risk of contracting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Importantly the tool also gives users advice on how to reduce the risk to themselves and their loved ones. The provision of tailored information puts individual behaviour in the spotlight and supports people to limit virus spread and save lives.
The data from this tool will be compared internationally to provide advice to governments and health agencies on the best measures to take in their region. We are also looking into the potential use of this tool to assess risk within families already exposed to a family member with COVID-19, to understand its predictive ability.
There are two current research projects underway at Perth Children’s Hospital that will now play a key role in helping to understand the spectrum of clinical features, treatments and outcomes for children diagnosed with COVID-19.
The PATRIC study involves the development of an Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI) registry by enrolling all children with acute respiratory infections, including COVID-19, who present at the Perth Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. The registry collects clinical and medical information and includes weekly follow-up surveys around the child’s symptoms and recovery.
The PAEDS-FluCAN study identifies all children hospitalised with influenza and other key infections of public health significance – this study will now also collect critical clinical data relating to children diagnosed with COVID-19.
Additional new studies are being planned around the potential to collate this data locally and from sources throughout Australia, as well as looking at routinely collected blood samples to understand how many children are become immune to COVID-19 over time.
CI: Associate Professor Chris Blyth, Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases
Perth Children’s Hospital is one of six hospitals throughout Australia participating in a new study tracking health care workers to see if they contract influenza or COVID-19 throughout the 2020 winter season.
Funded by the National Institute of Health based in the USA, the study will look to which health care workers are being infected and how long they remain infectious, as well as gain a better understanding of the body’s immune response to infection.
This research is specifically looking at health care workers given they play an essential role in the community response to COVID-19 but also face a higher risk of exposure to infections.
CI: Associate Professor Chris Blyth, Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases