Mobiles track malaria hotspots

18 October 2012 09:37

Once humans contract malaria from a mosquito bite, they can act as a carrier if bitten by uninfected insects, which then spread it to other people

Once humans contract malaria from a mosquito bite, they can act as a carrier if bitten by uninfected insects, which then spread it to other people

A study has shed new light on how malaria is transmitted via human hosts by monitoring the movement of millions of people in Kenya through their cellphones. The disease is responsible for the deaths of nearly a million people a year but can be successfully overcome with the right treatment, as was the case with its best-known recent victims, African footballers Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast and Lomana Lua Lua from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Malaria is usually associated with the bite of infected female mosquitoes - but once humans contract the disease, they can act as a carrier if they are bitten by uninfected insects, which then spread the disease to other people.

Researchers from Pennsylvania, United States, used data from the cellphones of nearly 15 million Kenyans and compared it with population distribution and malaria prevalence, to create, for the first time, a map of large-scale trends in the spread of the disease. The team, led by Amy Wesolowski at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, mapped every call or text to its local cellphone tower.

The results offered an explanation for malaria hotspots in Kenya's western highlands and the suburbs of Nairobi. In general, the researchers found that areas with the highest malaria risk contained the most-travelled people. This information also offers a timely reminder of the importance of pre-existing medical travel insurance for people travelling to and around Africa. The findings suggest merely controlling the mosquito population will not be enough to combat malaria and effort should also focus on transmission by humans.

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