Improving the surveillance of novel and emerging infections

Supervisor: Jonathan Read
Lancaster University Medical School


Early identification and surveillance of novel and emerging infectious diseases, and understanding the structural factors that contribute to delays, are important for timely public health responses and situational awareness. The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 demonstrated that even though an outbreak was readily detected, the ability to contain the pathogen within source countries and prevent international dissemination may fail. This programme of work will consider the following research questions: (1) What factors may delay the  reporting of new disease cases and may indicate an underdeveloped national reporting infrastructure; (2) What are the practical limits on detecting  and containing novel outbreaks before international dissemination occurs; (3) Can international travel and passenger information be used to infer incidence in countries/regions with significant underreporting of a new or emerging infectious disease?

Where does the project lie on the Translational Pathway?

T1 – Basic Research and T4 Practice to Policy / Population

Expected Outputs

The project will aim for a PhD by publication, where the expectation is that there would be at least 3 publications arising directly from the thesis.

Outputs will be of interest to national and international public health agencies and charities, particularly WHO, BMGF, UKHSA and CDC.


Training Opportunities

Training in advanced quantitative methods will be delivered through the core MSc modules, and optional MSc modules for infectious disease modelling and geospatial modelling at Lancaster University. Additional training in model development and fitting will be provided at Lancaster. The student will develop advanced skills in coding, data management, and repository version control.

Skills Required

Quantitatively orientated, with an aptitude for coding and mathematics/statistics. Experience in data handling and/or epidemiological studies would be an advantage.


Key Publications associated with this project

Read JM, Bridgen JR, Cummings DA, Ho A, Jewell CP. Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV (COVID-19): early estimation of epidemiological parameters and epidemic size estimates. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 2021 Jul 19;376(1829):20200265.

Meslé MM, Vivancos R, Hall IM, Christley RM, Leach S, Read JM. Estimating the potential for global dissemination of pandemic pathogens using the global airline network and healthcare development indices. Scientific Reports. 2022 Feb 23;12(1):1-9.

Ferguson NM, Cummings DA, Fraser C, Cajka JC, Cooley PC, Burke DS. Strategies for mitigating an influenza pandemic. Nature. 2006 Jul;442(7101):448-52.

Harrington WN, Kackos CM, Webby RJ. The evolution and future of influenza pandemic preparedness. Experimental & Molecular Medicine. 2021 May;53(5):737-49.


LSTM Themes and Topics – Key Words

Health Policy & Health Systems Research;  Maternal, Newborn & Child Health


Application Portal closes: Thursday 9th February 2023 (12:00 noon UK time)

Shortlisting complete by: End Feb/early March 2023

Interviews by: Late March/early April 2023

Further information on the MRC CASE/DTP 2023/24 programme and how to apply can be found here