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Friday 28th October 2016

Google Earth used to fight dengue

10th October 2008

In response to a need for a cheap and innovative solution to manage vector-borne diseases, researchers have used Google Earth to help map dengue fever.


In environments where access to resources is limited, free software like Google Earth can be teamed up with existing geographic information to make mapping tools for disease outbreaks, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a recent report.

Using freely accessible satellite imagery and a set of feature-making tools included in the software, allowing for production of polygons, lines and points, researchers generated information showing city infrastructure and disease data.

The mapping tool was designed for integration into a system supporting public health decisions in matters relating to the mosquito-borne dengue fever.

The team used as an example maps of two Mexican cities; Chetumal and Merida.

They showed that a basic representation of city infrastructure was useful as a spatial backbone, to which other data layers could be added, including labelled polygons representing city blocks, lines representing streets, and points showing the locations of schools and health clinics.

City blocks were colour-coded to show presence of dengue cases. The data layers were successfully imported in a format known as shapefile into a GIS software.

Using such a tool, public health policymakers could infer links between clusters of cases and mosquito breeding grounds.

Co-author Maria Alba LoroƱo-Pino, of the Autonomous University of Yucatan, Mexico, said the study showed that Google Earth could be combined with epidemiological information, and data on the geographic location and physical infrastructure to do better studies of public health.

The team says that while they had proved the usefulness of the tool for tracking dengue fever, with the addition of suitable information, it could be converted for use in other places, and to track other diseases, and even to manage vaccination campaigns.

Google Earth has several advantages, being low-cost and simple to use, with high quality satellite images available in urban areas - though researchers noted that satellite image quality is poorer for rural areas.

It can be run on a desktop computer and has a relatively short download time, which helps in areas where internet connections are slow or unreliable.

The new tool can also be combined with other free health mapping tools, such as the WHO's HealthMapper, and the data is easily interchangeable between different mapping software packages.


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