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Surprising Science

How Mobile Phones Combat the Spread of Global Disease

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have used tracking data from personal mobile phones to map transmission patterns of malaria, enabling more effective prevention schemes. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Using location data gathered by personal mobile phones, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have created the first map that tracks the spread of malaria by examining movement patterns among Kenya’s population. Between 2008 and 2009, researchers followed the movement of 15 millions Kenyans, out of a total population of close to 40 million. Then they combined the data with “maps of population distribution and malaria prevalence over the same period to create, for the first time, a map that correlates large-scale trends in movement to the spread of the disease.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Because of how malaria spreads, the disease is particularly sensitive to the movement of affected populations. “Malaria is usually associated with the bite of infected female mosquitoes. But once humans contract the disease, they can act as a vector if they are bitten by uninfected insects, which then spread the parasite to other people.” Tom Scott of the Mosquito Research Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, said the research will be essential in finding and targeting the human transmission routes of the parasites that cause malaria. 

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