In early 2022, practically two decades immediately after Covid was declared a pandemic by the Earth Wellness Group, specialists are mulling a significant issue: when is a pandemic “over”?
So, what is the answer? What standards should really be made use of to ascertain the “end” of Covid’s pandemic period? These are deceptively easy thoughts and there are no uncomplicated answers.
I am a laptop scientist who investigates the development of ontologies. In computing, ontologies are a signifies to formally construction understanding of a subject matter domain, with its entities, relations, and constraints, so that a computer can method it in numerous programs and help humans to be much more exact.
Ontologies can find awareness that is been ignored right up until now: in one particular instance, an ontology determined two extra useful domains in phosphatases (a team of enzymes) and a novel area architecture of a portion of the enzyme. Ontologies also underlie Google’s Know-how Graph that is at the rear of those people expertise panels on the appropriate-hand side of a search final result.
Making use of ontologies to the thoughts I posed at the get started is practical. This method aids to clarify why it is tricky to specify a cut-off point at which a pandemic can be declared “over”. The system requires collecting definitions and characterizations from domain specialists, like epidemiologists and infectious condition researchers, consulting appropriate analysis and other ontologies, and investigating the character of what entity “X” is.
“X”, below, would be the pandemic alone – not a mere shorthand definition, but wanting into the houses of that entity. This sort of a precise characterization of the “X” will also reveal when an entity is “not an X”. For occasion, if X = household, a home of properties is that they all must have a roof if some item does not have a roof, it undoubtedly is not a property.
With these characteristics in hand, a specific, official specification can be formulated, aided by supplemental solutions and tools. From that, the what or when of “X” – the pandemic is about or it is not – would logically comply with. If it doesn’t, at the very least it will be attainable to describe why items are not that straightforward.
This form of precision complements health and fitness experts’ efforts, supporting individuals to be additional specific and talk much more exactly. It forces us to make implicit assumptions explicit and clarifies in which disagreements may well be.
Definitions and diagrams
I carried out an ontological examination of “pandemic”. Initial, I required to discover definitions of a pandemic.
Informally, an epidemic is an occurrence for the duration of which there are various circumstances of an infectious disease in organisms, for a restricted length of time, that has an effect on a community of explained organisms living in some area. A pandemic, as a bare minimum, extends the region wherever the bacterial infections consider location.
Next, I drew from current foundational ontologies. This incorporates generic classes like “object”, “process”, and “quality”. I also utilised domain ontologies, which comprise entities specific to a subject domain, like infectious ailments. Among the other methods, I consulted the Infectious Illness Ontology and the Descriptive Ontology for Linguistic and Cognitive Engineering.
To start with, I aligned “pandemic” to a foundational ontology, employing a determination diagram to simplify the approach. This helped to operate out what sort of detail and generic category “pandemic” is:
(1) Is [pandemic] anything that is happening or happening? Of course (perdurant, i.e., one thing that unfolds in time, rather than be wholly present).
(2) Are you ready to be present or participate in [a pandemic]? Indeed (event).
(3) Is [a pandemic] atomic, i.e., has no subdivisions and has a definite endpoint? No (accomplishment).
The phrase “accomplishment” could seem odd below. But, in this context, it helps make clear that a pandemic is a temporal entity with a restricted lifespan and will evolve – that is, stop to be a pandemic and evolve back to epidemic, as indicated in this diagram.
Upcoming, I examined a pandemic’s qualities explained in the literature. A complete listing is described in a paper by US infectious disorder specialists published in 2009 during the global H1N1 influenza virus outbreak. They collated eight characteristics of a pandemic.
I outlined them and assessed them from an ontological standpoint:
- Large geographic extension. This is an imprecise function – be it fuzzy in the mathematical perception or believed by other suggests: there isn’t a crisp threshold when “wide” starts or ends.
- Illness motion: there is transmission from location to spot and that can be traced. A yes/no characteristic, but it could be produced categorical or with ranges of how slowly but surely or fast it moves.
- Substantial assault charges and explosiveness, or: numerous people are influenced in a quick time span. Numerous, limited, speedy – all suggest imprecision.
- Negligible inhabitants 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 population. This is an inherently fuzzy feature.
- Novelty: A indeed/no characteristic, but 1 could increase “partial”.
- Infectiousness: it must be infectious (excluding non-infectious things, like obesity), so a crystal clear sure/no.
- Contagiousness: this may well be from man or woman to man or woman or by some other medium. This residence contains human-to-human, human-animal middleman (e.g., fleas, rats), and human-environment (notably: h2o, as with cholera), and their attendant elements.
- Severity: Traditionally, the expression “pandemic” has been utilized far more often for intense health conditions or people with superior fatality prices (e.g., HIV/AIDS) than for milder kinds. This has some subjectivity, and therefore may perhaps be fuzzy.
Attributes with imprecise boundaries annoy epidemiologists since they may well lead to diverse results of their prediction designs. But from my ontologist’s viewpoint, we’re receiving someplace with these houses. From the computational aspect, automatic reasoning with fuzzy options is achievable.
COVID, at least early in 2020, simply ticked all eight packing containers. A suitably automated reasoner would have labeled that problem as a pandemic. But now, in early 2022? Severity (place 8) has mainly reduced and immunity (point 4) has risen. Issue 5 – are there worse variants of concern to appear – is the million-greenback question. Much more ontological analysis is required.
Highlighting the challenges
Ontologically talking, then, a pandemic is an event (“accomplishment”) that unfolds in time. To be categorized as a pandemic, there are a range of functions that are not all crisp and for which the imprecise boundaries have not all been set. Conversely, it indicates that classifying the occasion as “not a pandemic” is just as imprecise.
This is not a comprehensive remedy as to what a pandemic is ontologically, but it does get rid of mild on the problems of calling it “over” – and illustrates well that there will be disagreement about it.
This write-up by Maria Keet, Affiliate professor in Laptop or computer Science, University of Cape City is republished from The Conversation underneath a Creative Commons license. Study the primary short article.