Nav: Home

Predicting disease outbreaks using environmental changes

June 12, 2016

A model that predicts outbreaks of zoonotic diseases -- those originating in livestock or wildlife such as Ebola and Zika -- based on changes in climate, population growth and land use has been developed by a UCL-led team of researchers.

"This model is a major improvement in our understanding of the spread of diseases from animals to people. We hope it can be used to help communities prepare and respond to disease outbreaks, as well as to make decisions about environmental change factors that may be within their control," said lead author Professor Kate Jones, UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment and ZSL.

More than 60% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic and although Ebola and Zika are well-known, there are many other diseases including Rift Valley fever and Lassa fever which affect thousands already and are predicted to spread with changing environmental factors.

"Our model can help decision-makers assess the likely impact of any interventions or change in national or international government policies, such as the conversion of grasslands to agricultural lands, on zoonotic transmission. Importantly, the model also has the potential to look at the impact of global change on many diseases at once, to understand any trade-offs that decision-makers may have to be make," Professor Jones added.

The study published today in Methods in Ecology and Evolution tested the new model with Lassa fever. It was carried out by partners in the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium, which was funded under the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme.

Lassa fever is endemic across West Africa and is caused by Lassa virus passing to people from rats. The model predicts the number of people with the disease will double from 195,125 to 406,725 by 2070 due to climate change and a growing human population.

Like Ebola virus, Lassa virus causes haemorrhagic fever and can be fatal. How many people are affected by Lassa fever each year is unclear as many don't have severe symptoms and those that do are often misdiagnosed with malaria; current estimates range from 100,000 to one million.

"Our new approach successfully predicts outbreaks of individual diseases by pairing the changes in the host's distribution as the environment changes with the mechanics of how that disease spreads from animals to people, which hasn't been done before. It allows us to calculate how often people are likely to come into contact with disease-carrying animals and their risk of the virus spilling over. Alongside population increases, the expected future changes to climatic patterns will drive an expansion of the areas of West Africa considered high risk, especially the western most regions around Senegal and Guinea, the coastline of Cote d'ivoire and Ghana, and in Central Nigeria," added first author, Dr David Redding, UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment.

The team used the locations of 408 known Lassa fever outbreaks in West Africa between 1967-2012 and the changes in land use and crop yields, temperature and rainfall, behaviour and access to healthcare. They also identified the sub-species of the multimammate rat (Mastomys natalensis) which transmits Lassa virus to humans to map its location against ecological factors.

The model was then developed using this information along with forecasts of climate change, future population density and land-use change.

The approach has already proved successful by predicting the current disease patterns of Lassa fever. The researchers say the model could be refined to consider zoonotic disease transmission within human populations by including the impact of travel infrastructure, human-to-human contact rates and poverty -- something that would have been of enormous use in the recent Ebola and Zika outbreaks.
-end-


University College London

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.