May 18, 2011 Every 30 seconds, infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis kill as many people as Jack the Ripper did in his entire career. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal International Journal of Health Geographics demonstrates how the mathematical model of geographic profiling, used in the hunt for serial killers, can help combat infectious diseases.
Geographic profiling is a statistical technique which uses the locations of crimes to identify areas in which the serial criminal is most likely to live and work, and was originally developed to help police prioritize suspects. Typically, such cases involve too many, rather than too few, suspects. For example, in the late 1970s police had to sort through over a quarter of a million names in the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry. Geographic profiling has been successfully used by law enforcement agencies around the world, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Scotland Yard and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Now, research led by Dr Steven Le Comber in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary, University of London, has shown that this method can use the locations of disease cases to identify the source of the disease.
Dr Le Comber, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Miami and Ain Shams University in Cairo, as well as with the inventor of geographic profiling (former detective turned Professor of Criminal Justice Kim Rossmo from Texas State University), examined a classic study, the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, and more recent cases of malaria in Cairo. In both cases geographic profiling successfully located the sources of the disease -- the Broad Street pump in London, and the breeding habitats of the mosquito Anopheles sergentii in Cairo.
"This is a very exciting development," said Dr Le Comber. "Correctly applied, geographic profiling shows great promise as a useful component of policy relating to the control of a wide variety of infectious diseases. Evidence-based targeting of interventions like this is more efficient, environmentally friendly and cost effective than untargeted intervention."
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- Steven C Le Comber, D KIM Rossmo, Ali N Hassan, Doug O Fuller and John C Beier. Geographic profiling as a novel spatial tool for targeting infectious disease control. International Journal of Health Geographics, (in press) [link]
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