Epidemiologists know about the importance of mapping a disease to understand it better. And when it comes to a disease like dengue – that’s spreading, expanding, and evolving – mapping really helps people understand what’s changing. More importantly, it helps experts forecast what dengue is likely to do next, and where.
Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, is one tool that epidemiologists are working with to map dengue and understand its movements. GIS combines mapping techniques with statistics to find trends in places that have previously suffered from dengue epidemics, and to work out where else could be at risk.
One study in an area just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, put together information about topographical factors, population density, temperature, and land use. Combining these data, researchers were better equipped to pinpoint which parts of the suburb were especially vulnerable to dengue outbreaks. More recently, Malaysia’s government launched its iDengue platform, which uses GIS. It informs the public, and also aims to help the government mobilize its efforts against dengue in remote areas.
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Another study in Taiwan used GIS to help determine the best locations for insecticide spraying in an attempt to prevent the spread of dengue. Although the project is limited in scope, the researchers believe that GIS can help contribute to a more cost-effective dengue prevention strategy. Taiwan’s authorities have evidently paid attention to this research: in early 2013, the Center for Disease Control announced it would add GIS to its existing disease management system.
Elsewhere, researchers in the Philippines discovered in 2011 that the use of GIS could help work out which habitats dengue-carrying mosquitoes prefer. This knowledge makes it easier to predict dengue’s movements, which helps authorities make the best use of their funds for dengue prevention campaigns.
Knowing dengue’s movements is crucial if we’re going to combat the disease. GIS is just one of the tools that can help us keep a closer eye on where dengue’s been, and where it might be headed.
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