Using Geographic Profiling for Targeting Infectious Disease

Geographic profiling is a statistical tool originally developed in criminology to prioritize large lists of suspects in cases of serial crime. Steven C. Le Comber, of Queen Mary University of London, and colleagues, report on their use of two data sets -- one historical and one modern -- to show how it can be used to locate the sources of infectious disease.

The researchers first re-analyzed data from a classic epidemiological study, the 1854 London cholera outbreak. Using 321 disease sites as input, they evaluated the locations of 13 neighborhood water pumps. The Broad Street pump -- the outbreak's source -- ranks first, situated in the top 0.2 percent of the geoprofile. The researchers extended their study with an analysis of reported malaria cases in Cairo, Egypt, using 139 disease case locations to rank 59 mosquitogenic local water sources, seven of which tested positive for the vector Anopheles sergentii. Geographic profiling ranks six of these seven sites in positions 1 to 6, all in the top 2 percent of the geoprofile. In both analyses the method outperformed other measures of spatial central tendency.

Le Comber, et al. suggest that geographic profiling could form a useful component of integrated control strategies relating to a wide variety of infectious diseases, since evidence-based targeting of interventions is more efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective than untargeted intervention. Their research was published in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

Reference: Le Comber SC, Rossmo DK, Hassan AN, Fuller DO and Beier JC. Geographic profiling as a novel spatial tool for targeting infectious disease control. International Journal of Health Geographics 2011, 10:35 doi:10.1186/1476-072X-10-35