Predicting the distribution of mosquito-borne disease

Author: Sarah Craig

Edwin Michael, second from left

Mosquitoes can carry diseases such as lymphatic filariasis, West Nile virus, dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever. Over the course of our coexistence on earth, we have tried to control the spread of disease by controlling the mosquito.

But are disease-carrying mosquitoes a random happenstance, or can disease transmission be predicted? What does climate change mean for the future geographic distribution of mosquitoes—and the diseases they carry?

Edwin Michael, professor of biological sciences and member of the Eck Institute for Global Health, recently published “Predicting the Current and Future Potential Distributions of Lymphatic Filariasis in Africa Using Maximum Entropy Ecology Niche Modeling.”

What does a paper on lymphatic filariasis—a disease no longer found in the U.S.—based on research done in Africa have to do with us?

Plenty.

“This paper highlights the current and future burdens of the mosquito-borne disease lymphatic filariasis that could be expected as a result of climate change in the absence of interventions in Africa,” says Michael.

Michael’s primary focus is on the development and implementation of novel analytical approaches for providing a deeper understanding of the dynamics of disease transmission.

“Understanding and determining the disease burden and geographic distributions of parasitic infections is of utmost importance in guiding current global initiatives aiming to control these infections, which largely afflict the poorer regions of the world,” he says.

Predicting distribution of disease-carrying mosquitoes also has larger implications for economic development of these regions.

“Better predictions will allow better estimations of the health and economic impact of these infections, which will in turn facilitate better resource allocation and health programming decisions.”

By studying the distribution of species, the demographics of human populations and changes in climate, and by applying system dynamics (an approach to understanding the behavior of complex systems), we will be able to develop a global plan to fight the mosquito—the only animal that could potentially wipe out
mankind.

“What is becoming clear,” says Michael, “is the significant impact population growth in Africa will have on the future spread of filariasis. There is a need for both health intervention and achievement of broader development goals if we are to reduce or control this and other parasitic diseases, in Africa and elsewhere.”