Neil Morris FergusonOBEFMedSci (born 1968) is a British epidemiologist and professor of mathematical biology, who specialises in the patterns of spread of infectious disease in humans and animals. He is the director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA), head of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Vice-Dean for Academic Development in the Faculty of Medicine, all at Imperial College, London.
As of February 2020, at Imperial College, London, he is a professor of mathematical biology, director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics (J-IDEA), head of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Vice-Dean for Academic Development in the Faculty of Medicine.
During the swine flu outbreak in 2009 in the UK, in an article titled "Closure of schools during an influenza pandemic" published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, Ferguson and colleagues endorsed the closure of schools in order to interrupt the course of the infection, slow further spread and buy time to research and produce a vaccine. Ferguson's team reported on the economic and workforce effect school closure would have, particularly with a large percentage of doctors and nurses being women, of whom half had children under the age of 16. They studied previous influenza pandemics including the 1918 flu pandemic, the influenza pandemic of 1957 and the 1968 flu pandemic. They also looked at the dynamics of the spread of influenza in France during French school holidays and noted that cases of flu dropped when schools closed and re-emerged when they re-opened. They noted that when teachers in Israel went on strike during the flu season of 1999–2000, visits to doctors and the number of respiratory infections, fell by more than a fifth and more than two fifths respectively.
In his report to the House of Lords in 2009, Ferguson recommended that to halt transmission of swine flu, actions would need to include "treating isolated cases with antivirals, public health measures such as school closures, travel restrictions around the region, mass use of antiviral prophylaxis in the population and possible use of vaccines". He was also asked why there was not a policy for vaccinating frontline healthcare workers at that time.
In 2014, as the director of the UK Medical Research Council's centre for outbreak analysis and modelling at Imperial, Ferguson provided data analysis for the WHO, on Ebola during the ebola epidemic in Western Africa. In the same same year, he co-wrote a paper with Christopher J. M. Whitty published in Nature and titled "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission", explaining the UK government's response to ebola in Sierra Leone, including the proposal to build and support centres where people could self-isolate voluntarily if they suspected that they could have the disease.
In 2016, he co-authored a paper titled "Countering the Zika epidemic in Latin America", published in Science. Although disputed by at least one other biostatistician, Ferguson and his team concluded that the age distribution of future outbreaks of zika will likely differ and that a new large epidemic would be delayed for “at least a decade”. Cases of zika dropped after 2016. That year, he predicted that the zika outbreak in the Americas would be over within three years, and clarified that "viruses tend to return when there are enough susceptible people, such as children, to sustain a new outbreak".
Wolbachia is a bacterium frequently found in insects but not in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the dengue virus. In 2015, Ferguson published a paper titled "Modeling the impact on virus transmission of Wolbachia-mediated blocking of dengue virus infection of Aedes aegypti", in which he and his team presented their experiments and used a mathematical model to show that one strain of Wolbachia, could reduce the ability of the Aedes aegypti mosquito to transmit dengue, with a 66-75% reduction in the basic reproduction number.
CDC laboratory test kit for 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
In February 2020, during the 2019–2020 coronavirus pandemic (ongoing as of March 2020[update]), which began in China, using statistical models that considered data on the number of deaths and recoveries inside China, travellers outside China and in those affected that had returned home, Ferguson, Azra Ghani and their team estimated that detected cases of COVID-19 had significantly underestimated the actual spread of the disease in China. That month he stated that only 10% of cases were being detected in China. At the same time, it was noted that the number of available testing kits had come into question, and Ferguson calculated that only one in three cases coming into the UK was being detected. He stated "that approximately two-thirds of cases in travellers from China have not yet been detected. It is highly likely that some of these undetected cases will have started chains of transmission within the countries they entered." He said that the new coronavirus could affect up to 60% of the UK's population, in the worst-case scenario, and "suggest(ed) that the impact of the unfolding epidemic may be comparable to the major influenza pandemics of the twentieth century."