Novel Applications of Geospatial Analysis in the Modeling of Infectious Diseases
Telionis, Pyrros A.
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At the intersection of geography and public health, the field of spatial epidemiology seeks to use the tools of geospatial analysis to answer questions about disease. In this work we explore two areas: the use of geostatistical modeling as an extension of niche modeling, and the use of mobility metrics to augment modeling for epidemic responses. Niche modeling refers to the practice of using statistical methods to relate the underlying spatially distributed environmental variables to an outcome, typically presence or absence of a species. Such work is common in disease ecology, and often focuses on exploring the range of a disease vector or pathogen. The technique also allows one to explore the importance of each underlying regressor, and the effect it has on the outcome. We demonstrate that this concept can be extended, through geostatistical modeling, to explore non-logistic phenomena such as incidence. When combined with weather forecasts, such efforts can even predict incidence of an upcoming season, allowing us to estimate the total number of expected cases, and where we would expect to find them. We demonstrate this in Chapter 2, by forecasting the incidence of melioidosis in Australia given weather forecasts a year prior. We also evaluate the efficacy of this technique and explore the impact of environmental variables such as elevation on melioidosis. But these techniques are not limited to free-living and vector-borne pathogens. We theorize that they can also be applied to diseases that spread exclusively by person-to-person contact. Exploring this allows us to find areas of underreporting, as well as areas with unusual local forcing which might merit further investigation by the health department. We also explore this in Chapter 4, by relating the incidence of hepatitis C in rural Virginia to demographic data. The West African Ebola Outbreak of 2014 demonstrated the need to include mobility in predictive disease modeling. One can no longer assume that neglected tropical diseases will remain contained and immobile, and the assumption of random mixing across large areas is unwise. Our efforts with modeling mobility are twofold. In Chapter 3, we demonstrate the creation of mobility metrics from open source road and river network data. We then demonstrate the usefulness of such data in a meta-population patch model meant to forecast the spread of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Chapter 4, we also demonstrate that mobility data can be used to strengthen outbreak detection via hotspot analysis, and to augment incidence models by factoring in the incidence rates of neighboring areas. These efforts will allow health departments to more accurately forecast incidence, and more readily identify disease hotspots of atypical size and shape.
- Doctoral Dissertations