As coronavirus continues to spread across Israel, researchers have come up with a method to predict outbreaks before they occur using online surveys to assess the development of symptoms in the population.

Some 60,000 Israelis completed the online survey developed by Weizmann Institute Profs. Eran Segal and Benjamin Geiger and Prof. Yuval Dor from the Hebrew University, sharing details such as their age, gender, address, general state of health, isolation status and any symptoms they may be experiencing.

Preliminary analysis of this data led the researchers to detect a significant increase in symptoms reported by the public in areas where verified patients are known to have passed.

This analysis can enable the early detection of the spread of coronavirus, prediction of future virus hot spots days before an outbreak occurs and an evaluation of public-safety measures, and may help authorities focus their efforts on areas where an outbreak is anticipated while relieving measures taken in others.

“These questionnaires are the only tool that can present a general picture of the virus’s outbreak across the country. It is important to note that they are not intended to replace the efforts of increasing the number of tests to identify patients and carriers,” said Segal.

“However, tests can never cover the entire population – due to both logistic and economic constraints. We believe that our method may provide the Ministry of Health a strategic tool for tackling the crisis,” he added.

According to the Weizmann Institute, countries such as the United States, Britain, Spain, Germany and Italy have also started adopting the questionnaire method.

The scientists are currently working to establish a global forum, led by Segal and American researchers, with the goal of sharing data and insights and building prediction and comparison tools together.