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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Department B/Health Note

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on the use of satellite technology to predict disease outbreaks in Africa.


Just ahead: The impact of the eastern drought on fish. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey:


TOOMEY: Rift Valley fever is a mosquito-borne illness that infects both livestock and people living in eastern and southern Africa. In humans, rift valley fever can cause brain inflammation and lesions of the retina that can lead to partial vision loss, and there’s no effective treatment for the fever. Disease-laden mosquito populations can be controlled with insecticide, but outbreaks are unpredictable so it’s been difficult for public health officials to use those insecticides efficiently. Now, they’re getting some help from NASA satellites.

Researchers have discovered that outbreaks of Rift Valley fever follow sudden floods triggered by the El Nino factor in the Pacific and a similar phenomenon in the Indian Ocean. Both produce a warming of sea surface temperatures that can lead to alterations in rainfall patterns. Researchers say they can now predict Rift Valley fever outbreaks up to five months in advance by using these weather satellite data. To pinpoint the most vulnerable areas, forecasters also use the satellites to produce a greenness index. The greener the region, the greater the rainfall and, therefore, the more mosquitoes.

Researchers say the technology could also help predict another disease that’s rainfall-dependent: hanta virus outbreaks in the American southwest. That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.


CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Euphone, "Destroyed the 80’s," LOCATION IS EVERYTHING (Jade Tree – 2002)]



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