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NASA converts its orbiting horsepower into a platform to monitor disease outbreaks

The study of epidemics is a complex business.  In order to gain an understanding of how and where the disease may spread, scientists must examine complex environmental factors such as weather, terrain and vegetation.  You might call it rocket science; National Aeronautical and Space Association (NASA) scientists understand this complexity, that's why they're looking to space for some help.

A net of 14 satellites currently orbiting the Earth has been established which has allowed scientists to monitor the Earth's environment to help predict and preempt disease outbreaks across the globe.

The program, which is part of NASA's Applied Sciences program, gathers information daily.  It disseminates this information to various government and scientific organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Defense.  These organizations use the data to track disease outbreaks and decide on public health policy decisions.

The satellite network can help track some of the mankind's deadliest foes, such as Ebola, West Nile Virus and Rift Valley Fever.  The network takes advantage of the fact that these diseases' success is dependent on changes in the weather, vegetation in a specific area, and the terrain.

The satellites provide tracking of disease outbreaks and also allow plague vectors -- such as insects or rodents -- to be monitored.

NASA sees the program as a possible tool in tracking disease as our environment changes due to global warming and other factors.  “NASA satellite remote sensing technology has been an important tool in the last few years to not only provide scientists with the data needed to respond to epidemic threats quickly, but to also help predict the future of infectious diseases in areas where diseases were never a main concern,” explains John Haynes, public health program manager for the NASA Earth Science Applied Sciences Program.

“Changing environments due to global warming have the ability to change environmental habitats so drastically that diseases such as malaria may become common in areas that have never been previously at-risk.”

The program aims in specific to help the highly vulnerable Four Corners region, which includes Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.  This area is considered very susceptible to plague and Hanta virus outbreaks.  These outbreaks could effectively be controlled and stopped, though, with careful monitoring and tracking.

The plague could also be a powerful weapon against bioterrorists who might use it or other infectious agents on population centers.

As Hayes mentioned, another major target of the program is Malaria, a particularly infectious disease which affects 300-500 million people worldwide and has contributed to natural selection driven propagation of the genetic defect sickle cell anemia. 

In total, nearly 40 percent of the world is at risk of developing malaria.  NASA is teaming up with the Malaria Modeling and Surveillance Project, a project at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Thailand and the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit in Indonesia, to develop a comprehensive attack against malaria worldwide, based on this information.  Malaria is transmitted via mosquitoes who feed on the blood of infected hosts.  By tracking the outbreak and climate conditions, an optimal pesticide defense can be applied to stop these disease harbingers dead in their tracks.

The best part of all is that the technology is cheap as it utilizes existing satellites.  “The use of this technology is not only essential for the future of curbing the spread of infectious diseases,” said Haynes. “NASA satellites are also a cost-effective method for operational agencies since they are already in orbit and in use by scientists to collect data about the Earth’s atmosphere.”


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typos
By NicePants42 on 11/13/2007 9:30:19 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
These organizations use the data to track disease outbreaks and decided on public health policy decisions.

quote:
The plague could also be a powerful weapon against bioterrorists who might use the plague or other infectious agents on population centers.


I think the word 'track' is used too often in this article - it tends to give the impression that the satellites are somehow tracking disease as it spreads, when in fact the function of the satellites is
quote:
to monitor the Earth's environment to help predict and preempt disease outbreaks across the globe.


Statements like this:
quote:
The satellites provide tracking of disease outbreaks and also allow plague vectors -- such as insects or rodents -- to be monitored.
are a little misleading, because (if I read correctly) the satellites are not tracking disease, they are recording environmental variables which can be used in conjunction with infection information (gathered locally) in order to help predict outbreaks.

That said, I think it's a very worthy endeavor.




RE: typos
By mikefarinha on 11/13/2007 11:11:44 AM , Rating: 2
Not sure why you were voted down, I gave you 1+ vote.

Although I'm not in the camp that claims Global Warming is coming and going to melt your skin off (or other such cataclysmic ridiculous claims) I agree that more information about the earth is always better.


RE: typos
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 11/13/2007 11:35:49 AM , Rating: 4
If you post, all votes you made in that article are revoked.


RE: typos
By ebakke on 11/13/2007 12:14:38 PM , Rating: 2
Why?


RE: typos
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 11/13/2007 12:43:15 PM , Rating: 2
To reduce abuse


RE: typos
By mikefarinha on 11/13/2007 12:48:58 PM , Rating: 4
Thats a strange policy. I figured you just had to vote before you post.

Isn't this an incentive not to post? After all you have to post in the first place to earn your voting rights...


RE: typos
By Samus on 11/13/2007 1:30:37 PM , Rating: 2
You're a strange policy.

sorry, had too.


RE: typos
By JasonMick (blog) on 11/13/2007 1:46:18 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry if that language was confusing, but it was similar to the language used by NASA in its press release.

The press release made it sound as if NASA was somehow directly monitoring populations of humans and possibly identifying population groups with a disease.

Not sure exactly how it was doing this, as it did not go into more details. I'm guessing a lot of how it does this is confidential as NASA is working with the Defense Department on this.

As to the plague vectors, again, thats what the press release said, I think NASA means they are tracking which areas are most condusive to rodent/mosquito populations and breeding.

Anyone at NASA with more info pipe up.


RE: typos
By NicePants42 on 11/13/2007 2:56:02 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Anyone at NASA with more info pipe up.

Yes please.

There is a rather large difference between monitoring the earth's environment and
quote:
directly monitoring populations of humans and possibly identifying population groups with a disease


If NASA is doing the latter with satellites already in orbit, then the Terminator picture is very appropriate.

As for preemptively fighting outbreaks:
quote:
nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.


RE: typos
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 11/13/2007 3:13:24 PM , Rating: 2
Someone just watched 28 Weeks Later :)


RE: typos
By NicePants42 on 11/13/2007 4:25:57 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Someone just watched 28 Weeks Later :)
You're probably right, but it wasn't me...


The Bush Administration
By JonnyDough on 11/13/2007 3:38:32 PM , Rating: 1
probably pushed for this kind of thing. More monitoring with satellites. If anyone thinks that good is all that this satellite is doing, you're sadly mistaken.




RE: The Bush Administration
By mikefarinha on 11/13/2007 4:12:10 PM , Rating: 2
use the subject line to start their sentences. Please, it is an awful practice that makes me go mad when I'm trying to figure out what the heck you're talking about!

This is almost as bad as a whole post in caps.


People shouldn't
By mikefarinha on 11/13/2007 4:13:21 PM , Rating: 2
use the subject line to start their sentences. Please, it is an awful practice that makes me go mad when I'm trying to figure out what the heck you're talking about!

This is almost as bad as a whole post in caps.




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