From: Tania Rabesandratana, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published July 7, 2015 09:01 AM

Mapping mosquito data to track spread of disease

Mosquitoes that carry the dengue and chikungunya viruses are more widespread than ever, believe scientists mapping the global spread of the insects.

There are no treatments or vaccines for these diseases, so knowing where the mosquitoes that transmit them occur and thrive can help focus research and public health resources, the scientists say.

A study, published in the journal eLife last week (30 June), focuses on two species of mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, which carry the dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya viruses.

These diseases can cause lasting problems, including damaging joints, and are often deadly in children and the elderly.

To create the maps, the researchers used a computer model that predicts if a place is suitable for the mosquitoes. While previous studies were usually based on temperature alone, the new model considers other factors, including minimum and maximum annual rainfall, satellite data about vegetation and how rural or urban an area is.

“This is valuable, because temperature alone cannot discriminate between areas where the species can and cannot persist,” says Meghnath Dhimal, a researcher at the Nepal Health Research Council, who was not involved in the study.

The researchers compared their model-based map against actual mosquito records from various sources. Their database includes about 20,000 occurrence records for Ae. aegypti, and about 22,000 for Ae. albopictus, which, they say, makes it the largest mosquito database ever produced.

The researchers found that the model predicts large mosquito populations in some areas where actual records show a low mosquito count. Public health authorities and researchers should target these areas to ensure their records are correct, says Oliver Brady, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and one of the study’s authors.

“It could be that no one looked there because there are no people there or because it’s very hard to get to,” Brady says.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, SciDev.Net.

Mosquito image via Shutterstock.

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