In early 2022, virtually two several years immediately after Covid was declared a pandemic by the World Health and fitness Business, gurus are mulling a large issue: when is a pandemic “over”?
So, what is the answer? What conditions need to be utilised to identify the “end” of Covid’s pandemic period? These are deceptively easy thoughts and there are no uncomplicated answers.
I am a computer scientist who investigates the development of ontologies. In computing, ontologies are a suggests to formally structure knowledge of a subject matter domain, with its entities, relations, and constraints, so that a laptop or computer can system it in numerous purposes and assist individuals to be far more precise.
Ontologies can discover understanding that is been forgotten until finally now: in 1 occasion, an ontology determined two additional useful domains in phosphatases (a team of enzymes) and a novel domain architecture of a aspect of the enzyme. Ontologies also underlie Google’s Information Graph that’s at the rear of those people awareness panels on the appropriate-hand facet of a lookup final result.
Making use of ontologies to the thoughts I posed at the start is handy. This method assists to clarify why it is complicated to specify a lower-off position at which a pandemic can be declared “over”. The process includes collecting definitions and characterizations from domain industry experts, like epidemiologists and infectious sickness scientists, consulting related investigate and other ontologies, and investigating the character of what entity “X” is.
“X”, in this article, would be the pandemic itself – not a mere shorthand definition, but on the lookout into the qualities of that entity. These types of a precise characterization of the “X” will also reveal when an entity is “not an X”. For instance, if X = property, a property of houses is that they all should have a roof if some item doesn’t have a roof, it unquestionably isn’t a home.
With those attributes in hand, a precise, official specification can be formulated, aided by more solutions and tools. From that, the what or when of “X” – the pandemic is about or it is not – would logically observe. If it does not, at minimum it will be feasible to reveal why items are not that uncomplicated.
This form of precision complements health experts’ endeavours, assisting humans to be more precise and communicate much more exactly. It forces us to make implicit assumptions explicit and clarifies where by disagreements could be.
Definitions and diagrams
I performed an ontological examination of “pandemic”. First, I essential to obtain definitions of a pandemic.
Informally, an epidemic is an incidence throughout which there are multiple circumstances of an infectious disorder in organisms, for a constrained length of time, that affects a community of reported organisms residing in some region. A pandemic, as a minimum amount, extends the location the place the bacterial infections choose put.
Subsequent, I drew from current foundational ontologies. This includes generic classes like “object”, “process”, and “quality”. I also made use of area ontologies, which comprise entities specific to a subject domain, like infectious illnesses. Among the other means, I consulted the Infectious Illness Ontology and the Descriptive Ontology for Linguistic and Cognitive Engineering.
(1) Is [pandemic] something that is going on or developing? Indeed (perdurant, i.e., anything that unfolds in time, somewhat than be wholly present).
(2) Are you ready to be current or participate in [a pandemic]? Certainly (function).
(3) Is [a pandemic] atomic, i.e., has no subdivisions and has a definite endpoint? No (accomplishment).
The phrase “accomplishment” may possibly seem peculiar listed here. But, in this context, it can make distinct that a pandemic is a temporal entity with a constrained lifespan and will evolve – that is, cease to be a pandemic and evolve again to epidemic, as indicated in this diagram.
Up coming, I examined a pandemic’s qualities described in the literature. A complete list is described in a paper by US infectious condition experts published in 2009 during the global H1N1 influenza virus outbreak. They collated 8 properties of a pandemic.
I shown them and assessed them from an ontological perspective:
- Huge geographic extension. This is an imprecise element – be it fuzzy in the mathematical feeling or approximated by other suggests: there isn’t a crisp threshold when “wide” starts or ends.
- Sickness motion: there is transmission from position to put and that can be traced. A certainly/no characteristic, but it could be produced categorical or with ranges of how slowly but surely or quickly it moves.
- Superior attack costs and explosiveness, or: several people are afflicted in a limited time span. Many, small, fast – all indicate imprecision.
- Nominal population immunity: immunity is relative. You have it to a degree to some or all of the variants of the infectious agent, and furthermore for the inhabitants. This is an inherently fuzzy element.
- Novelty: A certainly/no attribute, but one could include “partial”.
- Infectiousness: it have to be infectious (excluding non-infectious items, like being overweight), so a obvious sure/no.
- Contagiousness: this may well be from person to person or by means of some other medium. This property contains human-to-human, human-animal intermediary (e.g., fleas, rats), and human-surroundings (notably: h2o, as with cholera), and their attendant areas.
- Severity: Traditionally, the phrase “pandemic” has been used a lot more generally for critical illnesses or all those with substantial fatality rates (e.g., HIV/AIDS) than for milder types. This has some subjectivity, and as a result may perhaps be fuzzy.
Attributes with imprecise boundaries annoy epidemiologists mainly because they may direct to unique results of their prediction types. But from my ontologist’s viewpoint, we’re obtaining somewhere with these attributes. From the computational side, automated reasoning with fuzzy capabilities is feasible.
COVID, at least early in 2020, very easily ticked all 8 packing containers. A suitably automatic reasoner would have classified that problem as a pandemic. But now, in early 2022? Severity (position 8) has largely lessened and immunity (position 4) has risen. Place 5 – are there worse variants of problem to arrive – is the million-dollar issue. More ontological examination is required.
Highlighting the difficulties
Ontologically speaking, then, a pandemic is an event (“accomplishment”) that unfolds in time. To be classified as a pandemic, there are a amount of functions that are not all crisp and for which the imprecise boundaries have not all been set. Conversely, it implies that classifying the occasion as “not a pandemic” is just as imprecise.
This isn’t a complete reply as to what a pandemic is ontologically, but it does shed gentle on the challenges of calling it “over” – and illustrates very well that there will be disagreement about it.
This report by Maria Keet, Affiliate professor in Personal computer Science, University of Cape City is republished from The Conversation below a Resourceful Commons license. Browse the primary report.