University of Tartu invites people to take part in coronavirus study

University of Tartu main building.
University of Tartu main building. Source: ERR

The University of Tartu (ÜT) is gathering data on the coronavirus outbreak and calls on people to participate in a study to map and model the spread of the virus.

The research team includes the university's computer scientists, statisticians, mathematicians, medical scientists, geneticists and sociologists.

Jaak Vilo, head of the ÜT Institute of Computer Science, said that the purpose of the project is to create a database required for mapping and modelling the spread of the COVID-19 disease, caused by SARS-CoV-2, which would allow to break down infections by age, occupation and location, changes over time and the differences between cases and the general population.

Vilo said in a live broadcast of the daily newspaper Postimees that the project aims to map out the "submerged part of the COVID-19 iceberg", referring to the spread of the virus among people to whom coronavirus tests are currently unavailable.

"The way for doing it right now is through an anonymous online questionnaire. We invite people who have reason to believe they have come into contact with a COVID-19 carrier to write down all of their risk factors -- chronic diseases, virus symptoms and so on. That will allow us to find links between the course and severity of the illness and various determinants," he said.

The study also aims to model the geographical spread of the virus.

"Thirdly, we want to see how the special measures imposed by the state were received by people -- that is in terms of the perceived threat and people's behavior. This is required to forecast the future course of the virus. We need to ascertain the affected areas and the course of the virus' decline following the establishment of special measures," Vilo said.

Genome analyses will also be launched on the basis of the population-based biobank of the Estonian Genome Center. The studies will attempt to identify genetic features causing susceptibility or, vice versa, resistance and immunity to the virus.

People who have been diagnosed with or suspect having contracted the coronavirus are invited to keep an anonymous log of their symptoms and health condition as well as known contacts with coronavirus carriers.

The survey is open to everyone irrespective of the presence of COVID-19 like symptoms and their severity as contacts between asymptomatic people and virus carriers and the quarantine behavior of the former group help contextualize the study results.

The study has approval by the ethics committee of the University of Tartu and follows the University of Tartu data protection rules.

Project initiators and research project leaders include Hedi Peterson and Jaak Vilo from the ÜT Institute of Computer Science, Krista Fischer from the ÜT Institute of Mathematics and Statistics, Irja Lutsar and Part Peterson from the ÜT Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine, Andero Uusberg from the ÜT Institute of Psychology, Kristjan Vassil from ÜT Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies and Lili Milani from the ÜT Institute of Genomics.

The study can be found here, in English.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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