Where are parasites going next? Can we pre-empt and halt them with a mobile phone?
Infectious diseases, caused by parasitic organisms of one sort or another, are perpetually on the move, never more so than now in this era of global interconnectivity through rapid travel and extensive human interrelationships through trade and social interactions. So how can we pre-empt them and fight back?
The December issue of Parasitology is a dedicated Special Issue on “Dynamics of parasite distributions: modern analytical approaches”. This Special Issue which was coordinated by Guest editor Sarah E Randolph, Professor of Parasite Ecology at Oxford University, contains 12 review articles that cover a range of topics from the novel application of widely used technologies such as mobile phone networks and social media for disease surveillance and disease reporting, to the impact of air travel on disease spread and monitoring, host spatial models and disease ecology, and patterns in time and space of the presence of genetically distinct strains of pathogen.
Putting the Special Issue into context, Professor Randolph explains;
“This issue deals with a range of newly defined questions, which are tackled by leading authors to help explain where emergent diseases are found, the reasons for that location and their provenance. The challenge is not only to keep up with the global movements of these diseases, but to garner an in-depth understanding of them which will allow us to predict and anticipate their next moves and, as a consequence, reduce human suffering. For this, new analytical frameworks and empirical methods must be developed, making use of new technologies aimed at data on all scales from the molecular to the environmental. Only then it will be possible to deploy novel control strategies more efficiently, targeted where the need is greatest or the chance of success highest. Target pathogens discussed include viruses such as avian influenza, bacteria and eukaryotic parasites such as malaria.”
One of the questions explored in this issue is how can we nip an epidemic in the bud before it gets out of control even if it makes its first appearance in remote areas of the world beyond the normal reach of public health specialists? One current answer is to make use of the revolution in personal communication through the ubiquitous possession of mobile phones connected to the internet. This may involve deliberate reporting, or merely the detection of incidental ‘chatter’ about events affecting individual that indicates new and extensive patterns. Assessing reliability of data, to allow correct interpretations and appropriate responses, is not trivial.
Biologists are now reaching out beyond their own disciplines to incorporate real-life human conditions in analyses and models in attempts to tame the threats posed by many infectious diseases on global scales.
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