Satellites and Disease

On the use of satellites orbiting Earth in helping to stop the spread of disease.

For example, malaria is carried by a certain kind of mosquito. Nearly two million people, mostly children, die of this disease every year. And about 90% of cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Epidemiologists are now using satellite data in this region to identify the habitats of the mosquitoes that carry malaria. Here’s Gregory Glass, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Gregory Glass: What we’re interested in is aspects of the environment that either serve as barriers to movement of either the malaria parasite itself or the mosquitoes that transmit malaria.

A river marsh might provide a perfect pathway for carrying the disease, while a stretch of arid grassland might be a barrier — and these different terrains show up in satellite images. Identifying these various terrains — relevant to malaria and other diseases — can help public health officials target education, prevention, and medical efforts to fight disease. Glass and others have already had some success identifying areas at risk for outbreaks of tic-bourne Lyme Disease and of Hantavirus, which is carried by rodents in the desert southwest.

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