Study: Satellites can predict disease risk

Feb. 15, 2011 at 12:32 PM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Satellites can give warnings ahead of outbreaks of deadly hantavirus by recording surges in vegetation that increase mouse populations, U.S. researchers say.

"It's a way to remotely track a disease without having to go out and trap animals all the time," said Denise Dearing, professor of biology at the University of Utah. "The satellite measures the greenness of the Earth, and we found that greenness predicts deer mouse population density."

While the study focused on hantavirus in deer mice, its findings could help health officials fight other rodent-borne diseases such as rat-bite fever, Lyme disease, bubonic plague, Lassa fever, salmonella infection and various hemorrhagic fevers, a University of Utah release said Tuesday.

The satellite method was tested on deer mice that proliferate when their food supply is abundant, "but it potentially could be applied to any animal that responds to vegetation," Dearing says. "It would have to be calibrated against each specific species of rodent and the disease, but it's really powerful when it's done."

"The point of this whole exercise is to develop disease-risk maps, which would show the distribution of infected hosts -- in this case, deer mice -- overlaid with human population density," says study co-author Thomas Cova, Utah associate professor of geology.

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