Satellites Predict a Cholera Outbreak Weeks in Advance

Sarah Derouin at Scientific American: “Orbiting satellites can warn us of bad weather and help us navigate to that new taco joint. Scientists are also using data satellites to solve a worldwide problem: predicting cholera outbreaks.

Cholera infects millions of people each year, leading to thousands of deaths. Often communities do not realize an epidemic is underway until infected individuals swarm hospitals. Advanced warning for impending epidemics could help health workers prepare for the onslaught—stockpiling rehydration supplies, medicines and vaccines—which can save lives and quell the disease’s spread. Back in May 2017 a team of scientists used satellite information to assess whether an outbreak would occur in Yemen, and they ended up predicting an outburst that spread across the country in June….

At the American Geophysical Union annual meeting in December, Jutla presented the group’s prediction model of cholera for Yemen. The team used a handful of satellites to monitor temperatures, water storage, precipitation and land around the country. By processing that information in algorithms they developed, the team predicted areas most at risk for an outbreak over the upcoming month.

Weeks later an epidemic occurred that closely resembled what the model had predicted. “It was something we did not expect,” Jutla says, because they had built the algorithms—and calibrated and validated them—on data from the Bengal Delta in southern Asia as well as parts of Africa. They were unable to go into war-torn Yemen directly, however. For those reasons, the team had not informed Yemen officials of the predicted June outbreak….(More).”