Dengue fever and Zika virus breakthrough: Britain develops new tool to predict outbreaks

BRITISH know-how is leading the way in the development of a satellite warning system which will be able to predict outbreaks of deadly Dengue fever in South East Asia – and which could also be used to issue alerts about the Zika virus.The project, under the umbrella of the UK space agency and led by hydraulics research station HR Walling ford, involves a consortium including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Met Office and Oxford Policy Management International Partners, as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other experts.

It will make use of Earth Observation techniques, which combine data compiled from space with measurements taken on the ground to make educated guesses about the spread of the flu-like illness, which can prove fatal.A UK Space Agency spokesman said: “Dengue fever is the most rapidly spreading, mosquito borne, viral disease in the world. “Dengue flourishes in urban poor areas, suburbs and rural areas but also affects more affluent neighborhoods in tropical and subtropical countries.

“This project will provide a tool giving advance warning, of several months, of likely dengue outbreaks. “This will greatly assist public health authorities to mobilize resources to those most in need.“The same methods could also be used to forecast outbreaks of Zika, which has recently begun to be reported in Vietnam.” The project will make use of Earth Observation EO) techniques, which combine data compiled from space with measurements taken on the ground to make educated guesses about the spread of the illness. EO techniques have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, with observation instruments include floating buoys for monitoring ocean currents, temperature and salinity, land stations which record air quality and rainwater trends, sonar and radar for estimating fish and bird populations, seismic and Global Positioning System (GPS) stations and more than 60 high-tech environmental satellites which scan the Earth from space.

The spokesman added: “This is the first time a dengue prediction tool will have been designed that links Earth Observation products and hydro-meteorological variables to vector-borne disease incidence at a local scale.“The Earth Observation based forecasting system will allow decision makers to identify areas of high risk for disease epidemics before an outbreak occurs, in order to target resources to reduce epidemic spreading and increase disease control.

“The project will also provide projections of dengue fever under a range of climate change scenarios.”

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