Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Satellite Images Used to predict Infectious Diseases

  The future of infectious disease prevention may lie in satellite imaging. There is on-going research aimed at tracking environmental and climate changes and correlating those changes with disease outbreaks.  Changes in environment often indicate migrations of disease carrying rodents and insects.  Also, climate tracking can predict floods, which increase the risk of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhea and hepatitis. In vector-borne diseases such as malaria, the correlation becomes more complex because human behavior and ecological factors like predation pressure also play a role. So far, researchers have had some success in tracing environmental and climate changes surrounding Hantavirus Pulmonary Disease, particularly the 1993 outbreak in the U.S.  On- site information (or ground truthing) will be key to future research in order to develop a reliable system of predicting disease outbreaks. Other factors to be considered include soil type, vegetation, soil moisture, and human behavioral patterns, among others. Therefore, satellite tracking would be only a fraction of the prediction process, but an important one nonetheless. Researchers hope that if they are able to predict outbreaks, public health officials can advise heightened practices of hygiene, sanitation and water filtration, simple but effective efforts. Much work is left to be done, but the research seems promising.

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