DEM Applications in Infectious Disease Prevention & Control

Sep. 8, 2016

Infectious diseases are caused by organisms such as parasites, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. They remain an important public health problem, causing over 13 million deaths each year worldwide. Changes in society, technology and microorganisms are contributing to the emergence of new diseases. As demonstrated by the influenza virus, new outbreaks can travel entire contents within weeks. The control of infectious diseases in the future will require public health organizations to rapidly recognize and respond to these threats.

Computer aided models help the public and private sectors track and predict the spread of infectious outbreaks allowing the focus of valuable resources in the right areas. This includes personnel as well as medical vaccines and supplies. Geospatial data is one layer of information critical to many infectious disease models.sept._9_map.jpgPhoto Source:

As an example, the Zika virus has been in the news lately with the 2016 Summer Olympics being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The virus was first isolated in 1947 from a caged rhesus macaque at the East African Virus Research Institute in Uganda, Africa. It was first isolated in a human in Nigeria in 1954. From that time until 2007, confirmed cases were rare. In 2007, however, a major epidemic occurred in Yap Island, Micronesia. A recent larger outbreak occurred April 2015, in Brazil. Local authorities link the outbreak to an influx of foreigners during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, coupled with the large population of Aedes Aegypt and Aedes Albopictus mosquitoes that inhabit the region. Since that time a large outbreak has occurred in much of South and Central America, and the Caribbean. Computer generated models help government healthcare organizations track and predict the spread of infectious diseases like the Zika virus. GIS data along with the mosquitoes known territory, travel and population movements aid these models.

Another example is the Ebola Virus which created a scare in the United States in 2015. The Ebola virus was first identified in Zaire in 1976. The disease was confined to relatively small outbreaks until 2014, when it hit urban areas in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone infecting more than 28,600 people and killing more than 11,300 by the end of 2015. Ebola is transmitted through body fluids from an infected person or through contact with infected primates, bats, or contaminated food.

Government health organizations must plan and act when it comes to the prevention and control of infectious diseases. Computer aided models help health organizations identify when conditions are “right” for an outbreak and be able to rally resources including vaccines to minimize an outbreak.

Elevation data plays a critical role in infectious disease computer models. Other useful data includes air travel, weather patterns, climate, infrastructure, hospitals and medical treatment facilities, water sources, population movements, demographic data, confirmed disease cases, vaccine inventories, and known location and populations of host parasites. How have you seen geospatial data improve the fight against infectious diseases? Add your thoughts and comments below.

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