The risk of deadly hantavirus outbreaks in people can be predicted months ahead of time by using satellite images to monitor surges in vegetation that boost mouse populations, a University of Utah study says. The method also might forecast outbreaks of other rodent-borne illnesses worldwide.
While the study focused on hantavirus in deer mice, its findings could help health officials fight other rodent-borne diseases such as rat-bite fever, Lyme disease, bubonic plague, Lassa fever, salmonella infection and various hemorrhagic fevers. The study combined satellite imagery with data from thousands of mice captured over three years in central Utah. The total number of trapped mice and the number of mice with the disease, a strain of hantavirus known as Sin Nombre virus, both climbed after peaks in greenery.
Previous studies also have looked for links between satellite images and deer mouse populations, but they used less trapping data and collected it in a single trapping season. The mice in the new study were caught during six trapping seasons in the spring and fall over three years, revealing how the population changed over time.
The study also used several different methods for estimating the amount of fresh vegetation in an area from satellite images, and a goal of the research was to see which measures are the best predictors of mouse populations. Health officials can use such information to see where hantavirus outbreaks are likely to occur. “The point of this whole exercise is to develop disease-risk maps, which would show the distribution of infected hosts – in this case, deer mice – overlaid with human population density,” explains Thomas Cova, an author of the study and associate professor of geography at the University of Utah.
Full Text: http://www.earsc.eu/news/monitoring-killer-mice-from-space