Neil Ferguson (epidemiologist)

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Neil Ferguson

180515 ferguson neil sph 020.jpg
Neil Morris Ferguson

1968 (age 51–52)
EducationLlanidloes High School[1]
Alma materUniversity of Oxford (MA, DPhil)
Known forMathematical modelling of the 2019–2020 coronavirus pandemic
Scientific career
InstitutionsImperial College London
ThesisContinuous interpolations from crystalline to dynamically triangulated random surfaces (1994)
Doctoral advisorJohn F. Wheater[2]

Neil Morris Ferguson OBE FMedSci (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.

Ferguson has used mathematical modelling to provide data on several disease outbreaks including the swine flu outbreak in 2009 in the UK, the 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus outbreak and the ebola epidemic in Western Africa in 2016. His work has also included research on mosquito-borne diseases including zika fever, yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria.

In February 2020, during the 2019–2020 coronavirus pandemic, which began in China, Ferguson and his team used statistical models to estimate that cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) were significantly under-detected in China.

On 18 March 2020, he reported that he had developed the symptoms of COVID-19, and self-isolated.

Early life and education

Ferguson was born in Cumbria but grew up in Mid Wales, where he attended Llanidloes High School.[1] His father was an educational psychologist, while his mother was a librarian who later became an Anglican priest.[1]

He received his Master of Arts degree in Physics in 1990 at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in theoretical physics in 1994 at Linacre College, Oxford.[3][4] His doctoral research investigated interpolations from crystalline to dynamically triangulated random surfaces and was supervised by John F. Wheater [Wikidata].[2][5][1]

Career and research

Ferguson was part of Roy Anderson's group of infectious disease scientists who moved from the University of Oxford to Imperial College in November 2000, and started working on modelling the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak a few months later.[6] He was appointed a member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2002 New Year Honours in recognition of his work on the disease.[7]

Ferguson and colleagues founded the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis in 2008.[8] He advises the World Health Organization (WHO), the European Union, and the governments of the UK and United States, on the dynamics of infectious disease.[9] He is an international member of the National Academy of Medicine,[7] a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and is on the editorial boards of PLOS Computational Biology and Journal of the Royal Society Interface. He is a founding editor of the journal Epidemics.[10]

As of February 2020, at Imperial College, London, he is a professor of mathematical biology,[8][11][12] 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.[7]

Swine flu 2009

Swine flu UK 2009[13]

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.[14][15] 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.[16]

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".[17] He was also asked why there was not a policy for vaccinating frontline healthcare workers at that time.[17]


In 2013, he contributed to research on MERS- CoV during the first MERS outbreak in the Middle East, and its link with dromedary camels.[18]


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.[19] 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.[20]

Mosquito-borne diseases

Ferguson's work has included research on several mosquito-borne diseases including zika fever, yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria.[9]


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,[21] 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”.[22] Cases of zika dropped after 2016.[21] 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".[23]


Wolbachia [24]

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.[11][25]


CDC laboratory test kit for 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)[26]

In February 2020, during the 2019–2020 coronavirus pandemic (ongoing as of March 2020), 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.[27][28][29][30] That month he stated that only 10% of cases were being detected in China.[29] At the same time, it was noted that the number of available testing kits had come into question,[28] and Ferguson calculated that only one in three cases coming into the UK was being detected.[31] 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."[32][33][34] He said that the new coronavirus could affect up to 60% of the UK's population, in the worst-case scenario,[35] and "suggest(ed) that the impact of the unfolding epidemic may be comparable to the major influenza pandemics of the twentieth century."[27][36][37]

Ferguson is a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group.[38]

Awards and honours

Ferguson was appointed Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2002 New Year Honours for his work modelling the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth outbreak. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences (FMedSci) in 2005.[39] He is also an International Member of the US National Academy of Medicine.[citation needed]

Selected publications

Ferguson's publications[40][41][42] include:

  • Closure of schools during an influenza pandemic[14]
  • "Travel patterns in China"[43]
  • Identification of MERS-CoV in dromedary camels[44]
  • Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission[45]
  • Modeling the impact on virus transmission of Wolbachia-mediated blocking of dengue virus infection of Aedes aegypti[46]
  • Assessing the epidemiological effect of wolbachia for dengue control[47]
  • Countering the Zika epidemic in Latin America[48]
  • Challenges and opportunities in controlling mosquito-borne infections[49]
  • All reports published on COVID-19[50]

Personal life

Ferguson reported on 18 March 2020 that he had developed the symptoms of COVID-19, and self-isolated.[51][52]


  1. ^ a b c d Clark, Pilita (2020). "Neil Ferguson, a virus modeller, sounds the alarm". Financial Times. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b Ferguson, Neil Morris (1994). Continuous interpolations from crystalline to dynamically triangulated random surfaces. (DPhil thesis). University of Oxford. OCLC 556755377. EThOS
  3. ^ "Prominent alumni". Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  4. ^ Ambjørn, Jan; Durhuus, Bergfinnur; Jonsson, Thordur; Jonsson, Orur (June 1997). Quantum Geometry: A Statistical Field Theory Approach. p. 347. ISBN 9780521461672.
  5. ^ Woo, Gordon (27 January 2020). "Clues on the Coronavirus Contagion". Risk Management Solutions.
  6. ^ Highfield, Roger (11 April 2001). "Has the A-team defeated the virus?". The Telegraph.
  7. ^ a b c Vice-Dean recognised as International Fellow of the National Academy of Medicine. Jack Stewart, Imperial College London, 21 October 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Professor Neil Ferguson | LCNTDR". Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  9. ^ a b "Optimal use of the first licensed dengue vaccine". LSHTM. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  10. ^ "Fields Institute - Thematic Program on the Foundations of Computational Mathematics". Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  11. ^ a b "Professor Neil Ferguson". Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  12. ^ "Professor Neil Ferguson - Networks of evidence and expertise for public policy". Retrieved 10 February 2020.
  13. ^ "2009 Press Releases". Health Protection Agency. 24 December 2009. Archived from the original on 24 December 2009. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
  14. ^ a b Cauchemez, Simon; Ferguson, Neil M; Wachtel, Claude; Tegnell, Anders; Saour, Guillaume; Duncan, Ben; Nicoll, Angus (2009). "Closure of schools during an influenza pandemic". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 9 (8): 473–481. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(09)70176-8. ISSN 1473-3099. PMID 19628172.
  15. ^ Wardrop, Murray (21 July 2009). "Swine flu: schools should close to halt spread of virus, ministers told". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  16. ^ Walsh, Eric, ed. (20 July 2009). "Closing schools won't stop pandemics: study". Reuters. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  17. ^ a b Pandemic influenza: follow-up, 3rd report of session 2008-09, report with evidence. The Stationery Office. 2009. p. 24–26. ISBN 978-0-10-844484-5.
  18. ^ Roos, Robert (16 December 2013). "Nearly identical MERS-CoV strains found in camels, humans". CIDRAP. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  19. ^ Gallagher, James (6 September 2014). "Ebola: How bad can it get?". BBC News. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  20. ^ "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission | Ebola Response Anthropology Platform". Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  21. ^ a b Cohen, Jon; 2017 (16 August 2017). "Zika has all but disappeared in the Americas. Why?". Science | AAAS. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  22. ^ Counotte, Michel J.; Althaus, Christian L.; Low, Nicola; Riou, Julien (26 December 2019). "Impact of age-specific immunity on the timing and burden of the next Zika virus outbreak". PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. 13 (12): e0007978. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0007978. ISSN 1935-2727. PMC 6948816. PMID 31877200.
  23. ^ Szabo, Liz. "Zika outbreak may have peaked in Brazil, researchers say". USA TODAY. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  24. ^ "Genome Sequence of the Intracellular Bacterium Wolbachia". PLOS Biology. 2 (3): e76. 16 March 2004. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0020076. ISSN 1545-7885. PMC 368170.
  25. ^ Zhang, Hong; Lui, Roger (7 January 2020). "Releasing Wolbachia-infected Aedes aegypti to prevent the spread of dengue virus: A mathematical study". Infectious Disease Modelling. 5: 142–160. doi:10.1016/j.idm.2019.12.004. ISSN 2468-2152. PMC 6962337. PMID 31956742.
  26. ^ CDC (5 February 2020). "CDC Tests for 2019-nCoV". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  27. ^ a b "Coronavirus fatality rate estimated by Imperial scientists | Imperial News | Imperial College London". Imperial News. 11 February 2020. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  28. ^ a b Singh, Ayush (8 February 2020). "Professor Says Coronavirus is Infecting 50,000 a Day, and He May be Right". Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  29. ^ a b Yang, Yuan; Liu, Nian (13 February 2020). "China accused of under-reporting coronavirus outbreak". Financial Times. Retrieved 17 February 2020.
  30. ^ Professor Neil Ferguson on the current 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak. Video Interview (5 February 2020)
  31. ^ "More coronavirus cases 'highly likely' in UK". BBC News. 12 February 2020. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  32. ^ "Two thirds of COVID-19 cases exported from mainland China may be undetected | Imperial News | Imperial College London". Imperial News. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  33. ^ MacKenzie, Debora. "Covid-19: Our chance to contain the coronavirus may already be over". New Scientist. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  34. ^ "COVID-19 strains global monitoring systems to the extreme". The Japan Times. 26 February 2020. ISSN 0447-5763. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  35. ^ Petter, Olivia (13 February 2020). "Prevent spread of coronavirus on with 'less hugging and kissing', says virologist". The Independent. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  36. ^ MacKenzie, Debora. "How bad is the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak likely to get?". New Scientist. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  37. ^ Neville, Sarah (13 February 2020). "Subscribe to read | Financial Times". Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  38. ^ "New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group". GOV.UK. Retrieved 20 March 2020.
  39. ^ "Professor Neil Ferguson | The Academy of Medical Sciences".
  40. ^ Neil Ferguson publications from Europe PubMed Central
  41. ^ Neil Ferguson publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  42. ^ Neil Ferguson publications indexed by Google Scholar Edit this at Wikidata
  43. ^ Jones, James; Garske, Tini; Yu, Hongjie; Peng, Zhibin; Ye, Min; Zhou, Hang; Cheng, Xiaowen; Wu, Jiabing; Ferguson, Neil (2011). "Travel Patterns in China". PLOS One. 6 (2): e16364. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016364. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3032737. PMID 21311745.
  44. ^ Ferguson, Neil M; Van Kerkhove, Maria D (2014). "Identification of MERS-CoV in dromedary camels". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 14 (2): 93–94. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(13)70691-1. ISSN 1473-3099. PMID 24355867.
  45. ^ Whitty, Christopher J. M.; Farrar, Jeremy; Ferguson, Neil; Edmunds, W. John; Piot, Peter; Leach, Melissa; Davies, Sally C. (2014). "Infectious disease: Tough choices to reduce Ebola transmission". Nature. 515 (7526): 192–194. doi:10.1038/515192a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 25391946.
  46. ^ Ferguson, Neil M.; Hue Kien, Duong Thi; Clapham, Hannah; Aguas, Ricardo; Trung, Vu Tuan; Bich Chau, Tran Nguyen; Popovici, Jean; Ryan, Peter A.; O’Neill, Scott L.; McGraw, Elizabeth A.; Long, Vo Thi; Dui, Le Thi; Nguyen, Hoa L.; Vinh Chau, Nguyen Van; Wills, Bridget; Simmons, Cameron P. (2015). "Modeling the impact on virus transmission ofWolbachia-mediated blocking of dengue virus infection ofAedes aegypti". Science Translational Medicine. 7 (279): 279ra37. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3010370. ISSN 1946-6234. PMC 4390297. PMID 25787763.
  47. ^ Lambrechts, Louis; Ferguson, Neil M; Harris, Eva; Holmes, Edward C; McGraw, Elizabeth A; O'Neill, Scott L; Ooi, Eng E; Ritchie, Scott A; Ryan, Peter A; Scott, Thomas W; Simmons, Cameron P; Weaver, Scott C (2015). "Assessing the epidemiological effect of wolbachia for dengue control". The Lancet Infectious Diseases. 15 (7): 862–866. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(15)00091-2. ISSN 1473-3099. PMC 4824166. PMID 26051887.
  48. ^ Ferguson, N. M.; Cucunuba, Z. M.; Dorigatti, I.; Nedjati-Gilani, G. L.; Donnelly, C. A.; Basanez, M.-G.; Nouvellet, P.; Lessler, J. (2016). "Countering the Zika epidemic in Latin America". Science. 353 (6297): 353–354. doi:10.1126/science.aag0219. ISSN 0036-8075. PMC 5475255. PMID 27417493.
  49. ^ Ferguson, Neil M. (2018). "Challenges and opportunities in controlling mosquito-borne infections". Nature. 559 (7715): 490–497. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0318-5. hdl:10044/1/61974. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 30046071. Free to read
  50. ^ "COVID-19 reports". Imperial College London. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  51. ^ By Nadine White (18 March 2020). "'There's A Lot Of Covid-19 In Westminster' Says Virus-Hit Academic Who Was With PM Days Ago". Huffington Post.
  52. ^ Proctor, Kate (27 March 2020). "'There is a lot of Covid-19 in Westminster': how politicians fell ill". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 28 March 2020.

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