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Scientists use cell phone records to predict spread of malaria
Date:12/16/2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. University of Florida researchers at work on a malaria elimination study in Africa have become the first to predict the spread of the disease using cell phone records.

The scientists analyzed more than 21 million calls to determine how often residents of Zanzibar travel and where they go. A semi-autonomous region composed of two islands off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, Zanzibar has drastically reduced malaria in recent years. Its government commissioned the study as part of deliberations on whether to launch a total elimination campaign.

The calls indicated that most residents who leave the region make short trips to Dar es Salaam on the Tanzanian mainland nearby, where malaria is relatively uncommon. However, they also revealed that a few Zanzibar residents travel back and forth from more distant areas of Tanzania where the risk of getting the disease is much higher posing the greatest threat to elimination.

"That group of the population is the real risk if Zanzibar wants to eliminate malaria," said Andy Tatem, an assistant professor of geography, member of UF's Emerging Pathogens Institute, and lead author of a paper on the research likely to appear in the January issue of the Malaria Journal. "That is the population group that is likely to be continually reintroducing infection."

Malaria is not transmissible from person to person. But if infected elsewhere, travelers can be bitten by mosquitoes once back in Zanzibar and those mosquitoes could then fly on to bite and infect other Zanzibar residents, forestalling elimination.

Over the past decade, Zanzibar's aggressive campaign against malaria has reduced infections from as much as 40 percent of its 1.2 million people to less than 1 percent, Tatem said. The country is weighing the cost of a campaign to eliminate the disease against the cost of continuing indefinitely with the control measures now in place. Its government commissi
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Contact: Andy Tatem
andy.tatem@gmail.com
352-219-8639
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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