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Medical News & Perspectives |

Use of Earth-Observing Satellite Data Helps Predict, Prevent Disease Outbreaks

Bridget M. Kuehn
JAMA. 2010;303(5):403-405. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.32.
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Months before the first human case of Rift Valley fever was identified in Kenya in December 2006, scientists studying satellite data predicted that the Horn of Africa would soon suffer a large outbreak of the viral disease, which can ravage livestock populations and cause severe illness in humans.

Daily analysis of data on vegetation growth in the region (a proxy for rainfall) enabled the scientists to zero in on the specific areas in which prolonged flooding would lead to the multiplication of 2 types of mosquitos that contribute to outbreaks among livestock. The information allowed the scientists to give public health officials in these areas several weeks of warning about what was to come (Anyamba A et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009;106[3]:955-959). In collaboration with the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Kenyan health authorities launched mosquito-control programs and livestock vaccination efforts, distributed mosquito nets and information to communities to prevent human infections, and restricted movements of livestock to prevent the spread of the virus to unaffected areas.

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Using satellite data, scientists predicted areas in the Horn of Africa at high risk of a human outbreak of Rift Valley fever (red) and at high risk of an outbreak in animals (green) in late 2006 and early 2007. About 64% of actual human cases (indicated by black dots) occurred within the area predicted; blue dots indicate the minority of human cases that fell outside the predicted area. Adapted from Anyamba A et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2009;106(3):955-959.

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