If it were possible to predict outbreaks of infectious diseases, public health organizations would be able to act quickly and preemptively to help control and limit the spread. Dr. Rita R. Colwell of the University of Maryland, College Park, has been able to do just that by using satellite imaging to track climate information that supposedly can predict outbreaks of Cholera before they occur. Cholera is a water-borne disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae and is a significant problem in the developing countries of the world. The gram-negative bacteria produces a cholera toxin which acts at the small intestine causing severe diarrhea leading to dehydration and sometimes death.
[The bacterium] has a known association with a crustacean (called a copepod) which lives on zooplankton, a type of plankton. Cholera outbreaks have been linked with environmental factors, including sea surface temperature, ocean height, and biomass (this is estimated by measuring chlorophyll produced by plankton).
Professor Rita R. Colwell and her team at the University of Maryland, College Park, have used remote satellite imaging to track this climatologically important information and the data collected now can be used to predict outbreaks of cholera before they occur.
Cholera epidemics have been episodic, so the ability to predict them could be one further step towards controlling this serious, water-borne disease by providing rapid response public health measures. The climate factors shown to be associated with cholera also play a role in many other infectious diseases. So this development offers a useful model for understanding human health effects related to climate change.
“We are now beginning to understand infectious disease is a moving target,” said Colwell. “As the climate shifts, any disease with an environmental stage or vector is going to be affected.” Colwell will call for an integrated approach of global scientific paradigms to track and tackle infectious disease: “We must protect this blue planet” she said “it’s the only one we’ve got”.
Original story: Scientists use remote satellite imaging to predict outbreaks of infectious disease…
Image: Landsat 7 Satellite. (NASA)
(hat tip: POPSCI.COM)