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­sing Cellphone Data to Study the Spread of Cholera


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Mass gatherings like pilgrimages could serve as hotspots of cholera transmission.

A study by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne shows how human patterns of movement contributed to the spread of a cholera epidemic.

Credit: Thinkstockphotos

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) recently led a study showing how human mobility patterns contributed to the spread of a cholera epidemic in Senegal in 2005.

"One goal of our research was to develop ways to estimate how the disease spread across populations, both in space and in time," says EPFL researcher Flavio Finger.

Human mobility patterns previously had to be reconstructed from patient case data, a flawed and time-consuming process. The EPFL researchers used mobile phone data to re-run the Senegalese cholera outbreak.

"Our simulation did a great job at reproducing the peak of reported cases of cholera in the region around Touba, where the epidemic broke out during the pilgrimage." Finger says.

The simulation also correctly mapped the spread of the disease across the country as pilgrims traveled home, and factored in local events such as intense rainfall in the country's capital of Dakar.

"Having access to more accurate data on population movement simplified our work and eliminated much of the remaining uncertainty," Finger says.

The researchers found improving access to sanitation and providing clean drinking water could have considerably reduced the number of new cases of cholera during the pilgrimage.

From Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne
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