Satellite images of ecological conditions help predictions for disease outbreak

Satellite images of ecological conditions help predictions for disease outbreak


USA, 12 July 2006: The Four Corners region of the United States (where Arizona, New Mexico., Colorado and Utah meet) will be at greater risk for hantavirus outbreak this year than in 2005, say scientists at Johns Hopkins University, the University of New Mexico, and other institutions. They also warn that parts of southern Colo. and north-central N.M.–previously at low-risk for hantavirus compared to the Four Corners region–are at increased risk in 2006. The study is among the first to forecast the location and extent of an infectious disease outbreak.

The forecast, based on research funded by the joint National Science Foundation (NSF)-National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ecology of Infectious Disease (EID) Program, is based on an analysis of satellite imagery and is published in the July 12, 2006, edition of the journal Occasional Papers, Museum of Texas Tech University.

“The causes of hantavirus outbreaks are complex,” said Sam Scheiner, NSF program director for EID. “This study demonstrates that ecological research can lead to a better understanding of the complex factors in hantavirus outbreaks, and in predictions that result in saving human lives.”

To forecast the risk of hantavirus scientists examined satellite images of the Four Corners region taken in 2005. The images provided information on vegetation growth, soil moisture and other ecological conditions, which the scientists previously determined were where mice and hantavirus thrived.

They then calculated the level of risk for the region and for specific areas within the region in 2006. The researchers verified the accuracy of their forecast model by comparing their forecasts with actual hantavirus outbreaks going back to 1993, when the disease was first identified in the United States. Their forecasts, based on data from 1993, 1997 and 1998, accurately predicted the actual disease outbreaks for 1994, 1998 and 1999 respectively. The research was also funded by NASA and the CDCP.