Health

Reunion dengue study claims climate data can help predict disease outbreaks

Sub-seasonal climate forecasts from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts model were incorporated into a vector model that generated predictions of mosquito populations

 
By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 26 August 2020
The outbreak in Reunion island was caused by mosquito species Aedes albopictus, native to south east Asia, but also found across the tropics. Photo: James Gathany / Earth Institute / European Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Public health efforts — already under strain from outbreaks such as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic — can be planned and disease outbreaks anticipated for the future using improved climate data, showed a recent study. Researchers focused on dengue — a viral tropical disease spread by mosquitos — as an example to demonstrate their findings.

An outbreak of dengue in 2018 on Réunion island, between Madagascar and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean was studied by the researchers using climate data.

Sub-seasonal climate forecasts from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts model were incorporated into a vector model that generated predictions of mosquito populations, said the study published in journal GeoHealth July 7, 2020.

This methodology was reasonably predictive of the 2018 outbreak, said the study, conducted by Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Umeä University, New York University and the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The characteristics of mosquito populations are not easy to predict as they are influenced by several complicated environmental factors, tough to monitor at a local level.

The researchers, however, tracked the dengue outbreak in Réunion to a local mosquito species, the Aedes albopictus. This species of mosquito thrived in a unique temperature range, with rain patterns having an impact on them as well.

The findings from incorporating climate data to mosquito populations, thus, led the researchers to conclude a perfect confluence of environmental and other factors can be responsible for the increase in the mosquito populations, contributing to a disease spread.

This showed the great potential for using climate information to predict the suitability of an environment for vector-borne diseases to spread, the researchers pointed out.

“Tropical cyclone-related rainfall events and higher-than-average temperatures played a role in the 2018 dengue outbreak,” said Laurel DiSera, the study’s lead author and a senior research staff associate at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society. “Since we can forecast such conditions up to four weeks in advance, we thought it would be possible that the outbreak itself could be predicted weeks ahead,” she added.

Mosquito control was the routine way to mitigate dengue outbreaks, said co-author Joacim Rocklöv, of Sweden’s Umeå University. “Having more time to act makes a difference, not in the least operationally,” he added.

Public health agencies can, thus, save resources and time and become flexible in dealing with sudden, unexpected threats such as COVID-19, said the study.

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