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Check out the EpiWatch website

Traditional public health surveillance based on health system or laboratory notification is often delayed. Even clinical syndromic surveillance may be delayed in detecting outbreaks. However, people talk about unusual illness, and news often reports on these long before health officials are aware of an epidemic. Harnessing the vast, available open source data available to us can identify early epidemic signals. Whilst not validated signals, these can alert us to the start of serious epidemics. Detecting outbreaks at the beginning of their genesis makes outbreak control more feasible, because epidemics grow exponentially and time is critical. Open source epidemic intelligence can provide signals of serious epidemics long before health authorities are notified - for example, using social media, a signal for the 2014 Ebola epidemic could have been detected 3 months before WHO was aware of the outbreak. Imagine if the COVID-19 pandemic had been detected before it spread around the world. Epi-watch is an open-source observatory for outbreak scanning and rapid analysis developed at The Kirby Institute, UNSW. Epiwatch conducts automated scanning of open source data such as news reports and social media in multiple languages, including regional languages in Asia, to identify early alerts for serious epidemics. In a stakeholder consultation, we identified outbreaks which over 60% of stakeholders were not aware of. We also identified outbreaks in our region that were not identified by other surveillance systems. Using Epiwatch, we were able to find a signal of COVID-19 prior to December 2019, suggesting the pandemic arose before the officially reported time period of December 2019. Rapid epidemic intelligence has the potential to change the course of serious epidemics by early detection. Whilst traditional surveillance is still required, a rapid signal can be a prompt for more formal investigation and testing. The Epiwatch team analyses global epidemic patterns and reviews current outbreaks weekly to monitor emerging outbreaks of interest.

The full automated Epiwatch platform and suite of tools is not public, except for the basic dashboard, which is on website. We use machine learning and artificial intelligence, and the system has been developed between 2016-2020, and underpinned by rigorous research. Our team at Epiwatch can produce Watching Briefs on request for government and non-government stakeholders and operational stakeholders such as ministries of health and other relevant non-government organisations involved in epidemic response.  Anyone interested in the Epiwatch system can inquire further by contacting us.

We have linked Epiwatch with a new peer-reviewed journal, Global Biosecurity. Field Epidemiology trainees or other public health personnel may submit Watching Briefs to the journal for rapid publication, which will be reviewed by trained field epidemiologists who will work with authors to develop the briefs. 

Epidemic or outbreak analysis is complex, and analysis is usually restricted to members of the responding team. However, we believe in harnessing the collective minds of the world - experts anywhere can add new or critical insights to any given outbreak, whether or not they are directly involved in the outbreak investigation. We believe in the power of collective critical thinking in solving complex epidemic problems. Trainees or alumni of Field Epidemiology Training Programs, as well as other personnel involved in outbreak response, can submit a Watching Brief on any global outbreak, using field data or using open source data if they are not directly involved in the specific outbreak, to Global Biosecurity. Watching briefs are intended to be a resource for public health and other first responders in the field, who may not have the time to review past outbreaks or disease details. 

If you have been following an outbreak and have new insights to add through a Watching Brief submission to Global Biosecurity, you can also request open source outbreak data from 2016 onward, from the Epiwatch database. To make a request, email epiwatch-ISER@unsw.edu.au and specify the disease or outbreak, start and end dates, and location (at a minimum, country).

Requests for Watching Briefs, resources and other information can be sent to ISER by sending the request by email epiwatch-ISER@unsw.edu.au

Examples of intelligence from Epiwatch

Read publications from Epiwatch


 Epirisk – outbreak risk analysis tool

Read about Epirisk - outbreak analysis tool


COVID-19: curated research papers and resources

Read about COVID-19 key research papers and resources


Outbreak alerts

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Watching Briefs

FLUCAST: Real Time Australian Influenza Seasonal Severity Forecast Indicator


Stakeholder feedback identifying the need for Flucast

Flucast methodology

Infectious Diseases Blog

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Publications from our team


Read key publications from the NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Epidemic Response

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