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USF-developed AI system unites global agencies to identify emerging infectious diseases, receives support from Microsoft



Its leadership in providing consistent predictions of COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions to the public has prompted the start of a USF-led global modeling project, sponsored by Microsoft, that can ultimately help scientists accelerate the threat of emerging infectious diseases recognize and respond to it.

Edwin Michael, Professor of Epidemiology, was tasked with developing an intelligent learning-based computer system that would create a library of simulation models that are updated in real time as it aggregates data from public health sources and journal publications around the world. Working with USF Information Technology, Michael received $ 165,000 in cloud credits to use Microsoft Azure to develop a software system that teaches itself to recognize the unique characteristics of air, water, and mosquito-borne diseases. In doing so, socio-economic and ecological structures are taken into account, which vary depending on the location and which could influence the virus transmission of a specific disease. For example, cholera is typically transmitted through contaminated water in impoverished regions with poor sanitation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how understanding and predicting emerging and other outbreaks of diseases belong to areas of modeling, decision-making and policy that are marked by significant uncertainty, complex global interdependencies and heterogeneity,” said Michael. “We are excited about the prospect of combining system dynamics modeling with Microsoft’s strengths in data science, large-scale cyber infrastructure, artificial intelligence and visualization to develop a novel, agile,” intelligent “process-based computer system that addresses this challenge, starting with the Microsoft Azure services. ”

Artificial intelligence is used to build a system of mathematical models that track the life cycle of a particular virus – infection, symptoms, hospitalization, critical care, and death – and help decision makers, public health officials, health care providers, businesses, and schools. The data will play a key role in assessing a virus’s transmissibility, predicting its future course, and the potential to contain, contain, and ultimately control a pandemic.

“With COVID-19, we learned firsthand the role cloud computing can play in moving research forward quickly, securely and efficiently,” said Jamie Harper, vice president of US Education at Microsoft. “We support the work at the University of South Florida and look forward to the advances and insights that will drive innovation further.”

The modeling architecture will be accessible via Github, with all code, data, services and publications being open source. This allows new and evolving information about the transmission and control of a virus to be quickly incorporated into the models, helping to quantify the likely effects of new strains of the virus and emerging interventions such as vaccination and therapeutics. Through his development, Michael will build cross-campus collaborations between disease modelers, epidemiologists, data scientists, engineers, mathematicians and social scientists and start interdisciplinary training programs for graduates and postgraduates. He expects to have the first prototype ready in a year.

“IT brings industry partners and researchers together to leverage advanced cloud technologies, including serverless architecture and AI, to enable rapid innovation,” said Sidney Fernandes, vice president of information technology and chief information officer. “This strategy enables USF researchers to take advantage of the flexibility and speed of the cloud and is a turning point for researchers like Dr. Michael. We were thrilled to work with Microsoft and Dr. Michael to work together to make this critical project possible. ”

The intelligent disease modeling tool builds on Michael’s recent work developing the SEIRCAST simulation portal, which county and state health officials have been using since mid-2020 to plan for COVID-19 outbreaks in Tampa Bay and a surge in hospital admissions. His expertise also helped with decisions made at USF regarding campus operations. Michael is now working on a new projection model for Hillsborough County that will examine vaccination rates by zip code and help locate hotspots. He wants to make his first data set available in the next few weeks.

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The Unseen Mental Health Effects of the Pandemic



“Eating disorders are on the rise, and medical science is advancing in this area to continually improve treatment outcomes,” said Dr. Margaret Mascolo, chief medical officer at Alsana, a leading eating recovery community and treatment provider. “Our patients consistently report a decrease in eating disorder symptoms after treatment, and just as importantly, our survey data shows they also report a much better quality of life post-treatment. This data is very encouraging for patients and their families.”

Eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, races and socioeconomic statuses. An estimated 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States have an eating disorder, and by 2030, there will be a 5% increase in the number of people with eating disorders, according to the Academy for Eating Disorders.

One of the challenges in treating eating disorders is finding treatment options and models of care that work with individual needs and schedules. For example, college athletes, young mothers and women with careers all have distinctly different lifestyles, so a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment is impractical and unlikely to succeed.

One potential solution is an approach that treats the whole person, such as The Adaptive Care Model at Alsana, which meets clients where they are in recovery. This holistic approach strives to create an inspiring healing experience that focuses on the patient’s total health. Creating a compassionate community of care is key to this treatment model. The program is based on five core areas:

Medical treatment

Someone working to overcome an eating disorder must build health resilience and establish a physical foundation for recovery. A collaborative and compassionate approach allows for your medical issues to be monitored and addressed by specialty-trained physicians. The medical dimension seeks to empower you by educating you on the organic causes of your symptoms and how to overcome them.


Exploring and growing your own sense of purpose and self-expression can empower you to connect on a deeper level with yourself, others and your sense of purpose or true calling. This means rediscovering your true self, feeling confident in expressing your potential and working toward your goals. Instilling hope, inspiration and motivation along your healing journey can provide you with the tools and knowledge to thrive long after completing treatment so you have a positive outlook for the future.


Proper nutrition plays an important role in recovery, as you must learn to balance nourishment and pleasure on a physical and emotional level to restore a nurturing relationship between food and your body. Guidance and exposure to balanced food choices and real-life eating experiences helps build confidence and promotes enjoyment of meal experiences, not just the food itself.


Physical activity can be healing for both the mind and body. Listening and responding to the body creates a strong foundation of body awareness. Movement is an avenue toward achieving optimal health, but it’s also a way to learn to appreciate and connect with your body on a deeper level.


Through therapy, you can work to heal from trauma, negative feelings, fears, and challenges that may be standing in the way of recovery. Practices that treat the person (not the disorder) can prove effective.

No treatment plan is one size fits all, and finding the right care is essential to recovery.

“Focusing on the patient’s total health is an innovative treatment model that is proving effective,” Mascolo said. “Our caregivers provide personalized care, compassion and support to complement the medical, nutritional and psychological therapies in a holistic treatment model.”

Find more information about eating disorders and available treatments at

How to Identify an Eating Disorder

The first step in effective treatment is identifying a problem. Discussing the answers to these questions with your doctor may help you pinpoint an eating disorder and get you on the path toward recovery. Take the survey to find out if you may have an eating disorder at

  1. Do you attempt to restrict calories or foods?
  2. Do you make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  3. Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?
  4. Have you recently lost more than one stone in a three-month period?
  5. Do you believe yourself to be “fat” when others say you are too thin?
  6. Would you say food dominates your life?

Michael French
[email protected]

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Why Social Anxiety Remains A Deadly Silent Killer For Vulnerable Young People



Depressed, upset and anxious young woman


Last week, a UK court awarded damages amounting to £50,000 to the parents of a 20-year-old student who tragically took her own life after her university was adjudged to have discriminated against her disability by failing to make reasonable accommodations to the way it undertook academic assessments.

Chronically shy and suffering from debilitating anxiety, Natasha Abrahart, a physics student at the University of Bristol, was found dead in her flat in April 2018.

The next day, the young woman who was petrified of public speaking and so shy that, on rare nights out, she would often rely on friends to order food and drinks for her, had been due to participate in a group presentation to staff and students in a 329-seat lecture hall.

In his ruling, Judge Alex Ralton criticized the university for failing to provide Natasha with an alternative means of relaying the results of her experiments, stating that it was “obvious that such a process does not automatically require face-to-face oral interaction and there are other ways of achieving the same.”

The 46-page written judgment also noted, “it was accepted by the medical experts that the primary stressor and cause of Natasha’s depressive illness was oral assessment.”

It was certainly not the case that the university had been unaware of Natasha’s deteriorating mental health in the lead up to her death either. Earlier in the winter term, she had attempted to take her own life and had reported this to staff at the university in an email.

Judge Ralton also drew attention to the fact that Natasha had been, over time, slowly accruing extremely low scores on other oral assessments for her course on account of being unable to perform due to her paralyzing anxiety, sometimes electing not to turn up at all.

Though this may have contributed significantly to Natasha’s declining mental health, the judge stopped short of finding the university guilty of negligence, or suggesting that it bore any direct responsibility for the young physicist’s untimely death.

Most frustratingly, the investigation revealed that several ideas for how Natasha might be enabled to present her laboratory findings to academic staff via alternative means had been bandied about by course administrators but none of these were followed through.

Out of sight, out of mind

Attempting to dissect the precise pathology of prejudice from a distance, and after the event, is a fraught exercise indeed.

However, it may reasonably be speculated that Natasha had been somewhat caught up in the crosswinds of problematic social attitudes and biases that intersect both the experiences of being young and possessing an invisible disability.

Concerning the latter, it remains unfortunate that still, in 2022, mental health disorders remain poorly understood and underappreciated by the public at large – particularly when contrasted to physical disabilities that can be more comprehensively signaled with clear visual markers like being in a wheelchair.

This is, even more, the case for mental health disorders that exist on the borders of what is simply understood to be part of the “normal” day-to-day reality of the human experience.

Social anxiety arising from something like giving oral presentations is a classic example of this. As presentations are such a common aspect of work and education nowadays and so many individuals, especially those who don’t undertake them regularly, do tend to get a little nervous ahead of time – it becomes infinitely easy for blasé, dismissive attitudes to creep in .

“Oh, don’t worry. You’ll be fine. We’ve all been there.” Unfortunately, these are typical platitudes often thrown about that demonstrate little understanding of someone who possesses a genuine anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are not about getting a “little nervous.” They can be as crippling and debilitating as any physical illness but because they are not always perceptible to the casual observer – they often fly under the radar.

In effect, telling someone with chronic social anxiety and shyness that they will be fine making an oral presentation in front of hundreds of people because “we all get a little nervous” is as absurd as telling somebody with a motor impairment requiring a cane or crutches to walk not to worry because “everyone’s feet get a little sore sometimes.”

The fragility of youth

Natasha’s sad story also gives pause for reflection on how, as a society, we frame experiences of what it means to be young and how young people are treated.

From an early age and right up into the higher echelons of academia, education is equated with a sense of the rite of passage.

With mostly honorable intentions, growing up, young people are exposed to the broadest possible variety of experiences in order to maximize opportunities and ensure hidden talents don’t go unnoticed and untapped.

The downside is, of course, that pushing fragile minds, in which genuine confidence and self-assurance may yet have established a secure foothold, into activities that are profoundly unsuited to that individual’s personality and ability – be they participating in sports, public speaking or just conforming socially—can be brutalizing.

Most young people ride the wave and come out on the other side. They may even find it character-building. For others, it can be shattering.

Commenting after the ruling against the University of Bristol, Natasha’s father, a retired university lecturer, said, “The University of Bristol broke the law and exposed our daughter to months of wholly unnecessary psychological trauma, as she watched her grades plummet, and her hopes for the future crumble before her eyes.”

Her mother further added that the university should “finally take its head out of the sand and recognize that now is the time for change.”

What that change should look like is for the university to determine based on the existing practices and policies it has in place.

It would be hoped that this would be underpinned by an ethos that dictates that young people, whether they are visibly or invisibly disabled, or indeed, not disabled at all, may not yet recognize when or how to ask for help or what rights they are entitled to.

That’s why, perhaps, they need the institutional support systems that sit behind them to be prepared to be extra vigilant and proactive. That way, more young folk like Natasha can ride the wave and safely swim over to the other side.

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Cases of deadly illness in men and boys soar – the 13 signs you must watch for



Cases of deadly illnesses are on the rise in men and boys across England, data has revealed.

In the last five years, hospital admissions for people with eating disorders have risen by 84 percent.

Medics at the Royal College of Psychiatrists found there were 11,049 more admissions for illnesses such as bulimia and anorexia in 2020-2021 than in 2015-2016, bringing the total to 24,268 admissions across England.

Of those, a strong rise was seen in boys and young men, from 280 hospital admissions in 2015-2016 to 637 in 2020-2021.

Eating disorders take a huge toll on the people that suffer from them and are often referred to as the ‘deadliest mental health condition’.

One in five deaths of people with anorexia is due to suicide, while all eating disorders see high rates of self-harm and depression.

Admissions in children have also risen in recent years, going from 3,541 to 6,713, with a 35 percent increase in the last year alone as the COVID pandemic hit.

Medics have now launched new guidelines to help doctors identify those who might be at risk.

They stated that the signs someone is dangerously ill can be missed by GPs.

The report found that many patients who are suffering from an eating disorder will often have normal blood work – meaning the alarm isn’t raised for doctors.

People with anorexia can also have dangerously low levels of electrolytes like potassium – that are not reflected in these tests.

Those who suffer from bulimia may also have disturbances and struggle with stomach problems.

They may also be a normal weight and it was previously found that people were being denied help if their Body Mass Index (BMI) was too high.

dr Dasha Nicholls, who chaired the development of the new medical emergencies in eating disorders guidelines, said awareness of common symptoms needs to be raised.

“Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating don’t discriminate, and can affect people of any age and gender,” Dr. Nicholls said. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The 13 signs you must watch out for include:

  1. Have become withdrawn
  2. Spending lots of time worrying about weight and body shape
  3. Avoiding socializing
  4. Eating very little food
  5. Someone having bad breath or smelling sick
  6. Anxious and depressed
  7. Strict habits and rules around food
  8. Exercising more
  9. Dramatic weight loss
  10. Cutting food into small pieces
  11. Lying about food and weight
  12. Wearing loose or baggy clothes
  13. Going to the bathroom after eating

dr Nicholls added: “Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating don’t discriminate, and can affect people of any age and gender.

“They are mental health disorders, not a ‘lifestyle choice’, and we shouldn’t underestimate how serious they are.

“Even though anorexia nervosa is often referred to as the deadliest mental health condition, most deaths are preventable with early treatment and support.

“Full recovery is possible if spotted and treated early.”

Current guidance, Dr. Nicholls said, is poorly misunderstood – leading to devastating consequences for thousands of parents and their families.

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She added that in order to stop the “eating disorder epidemic” in its tracks then new guidance needs to be implemented.

An NHS spokesperson said that demand for services has increased significantly over the pandemic.

“With the NHS treating a third more children and young people than it did two years ago, it is important that all healthcare professionals are supported to better understand and respond to signs that someone is seriously ill with an eating disorder.

“Parents can also find information on potential symptoms, such as binge eating, feeling guilty after eating, negative self-image, and other signs of a potential eating disorder on the NHS website, and they should not hesitate to contact the NHS if they or their children need support.”

This story originally appeared on The Sun and has been reproduced here with permission.

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