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Program identified virus outbreak spots

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PROVIDENCE, R.I., Aug. 11 (UPI) -- A computer program was successful in predicting where human infection of West Nile virus would occur around Sacramento in 2005, U.S. researchers said.

Scientists at Brown University said a computer model of the spread of the mosquito-borne virus in 17 California counties in 2005 successfully predicted where 81.6 percent of human cases of the disease would arise, a university release reported Thursday.

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The model was able to define high-risk areas where the risk of infection turned out to be 39 times higher than in low-risk areas, an article on the study in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases said.

"All of the parameters in the model are based on experimental data related to the biology and ecology of the virus, mosquito vector, and bird host," Brown graduate student Ryan Carney said.

For example, the spatial parameters of the model include how far mosquitoes and infected birds are likely to fly, Carney said. Key time parameters include how long the virus needs to incubate in mosquitoes before they become infectious, and the lifespan of infected birds.

The model allowed the California Department of Public Health to provide early warnings to an area stretching from the Bay Area through Sacramento to the Nevada line as well as regions in Southern California, Carney said.

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