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Map of zoonotic pathogens from wildlife, shown from lowest occurence (green) to highest (red)

Feb. 22, 2008

Scientists Make First Map of
Emerging Disease Hot Spots


A new study provides the first scientific evidence that deadly emerging diseases have increased steeply across the world, and maps the outbreaks’ main geographic and host sources. The researchers say that although historically a majority of new infectious diseases emerged in wealthy countries, the future risks are high in many poor areas. The study appears in the Feb. 21 issue of Nature.


Columbia researcher Marc Levy, deputy director of the University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is a co-author of the study. According to Levy, data from the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC), which is operated by CIESIN, helped create a picture of disease hot spots around the world. Factors such as population density, population changes, latitude, rainfall, and wildlife biodiversity were correlated with emerging diseases data from 1940 to 2004. This mapping of data formed a predictive picture of emerging disease hot spots in rich as well as poor nations, with implications for further prediction and prevention.


“Overlaying maps of where the zoonotic (animal-borne) diseases have occurred, with population maps, allowed a pattern of relationships to emerge,” said Levy. Understanding these relationships “is a first step in prediction,” and can lead to better surveillance and health care responses.


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