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  1. Abstract

    Vector‐borne diseases (VBDs) are embedded within complex socio‐ecological systems. While research has traditionally focused on the direct effects of VBDs on human morbidity and mortality, it is increasingly clear that their impacts are much more pervasive. VBDs are dynamically linked to feedbacks between environmental conditions, vector ecology, disease burden, and societal responses that drive transmission. As a result, VBDs have had profound influence on human history. Mechanisms include: (1) killing or debilitating large numbers of people, with demographic and population‐level impacts; (2) differentially affecting populations based on prior history of disease exposure, immunity, and resistance; (3) being weaponised to promote or justify hierarchies of power, colonialism, racism, classism and sexism; (4) catalysing changes in ideas, institutions, infrastructure, technologies and social practices in efforts to control disease outbreaks; and (5) changing human relationships with the land and environment. We use historical and archaeological evidence interpreted through an ecological lens to illustrate how VBDs have shaped society and culture, focusing on case studies from four pertinent VBDs: plague, malaria, yellow fever and trypanosomiasis. By comparing across diseases, time periods and geographies, we highlight the enormous scope and variety of mechanisms by which VBDs have influenced human history.

     
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  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 27, 2024
  3. Abstract Optimal control theory can be a useful tool to identify the best strategies for the management of infectious diseases. In most of the applications to disease control with ordinary differential equations, the objective functional to be optimized is formulated in monetary terms as the sum of intervention costs and the cost associated with the burden of disease. We present alternate formulations that express epidemiological outcomes via health metrics and reframe the problem to include features such as budget constraints and epidemiological targets. These alternate formulations are illustrated with a compartmental cholera model. The alternate formulations permit us to better explore the sensitivity of the optimal control solutions to changes in available budget or the desired epidemiological target. We also discuss some limitations of comprehensive cost assessment in epidemiology. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2024
  4. Rinaldi, Gabriel (Ed.)
    CRISPR gene drives could revolutionize the control of infectious diseases by accelerating the spread of engineered traits that limit parasite transmission in wild populations. Gene drive technology in mollusks has received little attention despite the role of freshwater snails as hosts of parasitic flukes causing 200 million annual cases of schistosomiasis. A successful drive in snails must overcome self-fertilization, a common feature of host snails which could prevents a drive’s spread. Here we developed a novel population genetic model accounting for snails’ mixed mating and population dynamics, susceptibility to parasite infection regulated by multiple alleles, fitness differences between genotypes, and a range of drive characteristics. We integrated this model with an epidemiological model of schistosomiasis transmission to show that a snail population modification drive targeting immunity to infection can be hindered by a variety of biological and ecological factors; yet under a range of conditions, disease reduction achieved by chemotherapy treatment of the human population can be maintained with a drive. Alone a drive modifying snail immunity could achieve significant disease reduction in humans several years after release. These results indicate that gene drives, in coordination with existing public health measures, may become a useful tool to reduce schistosomiasis burden in selected transmission settings with effective CRISPR construct design and evaluation of the genetic and ecological landscape. 
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  5. Humans live in complex socio-ecological systems where we interact with parasites and pathogens that spend time in abiotic and biotic environmental reservoirs (e.g., water, air, soil, other vertebrate hosts, vectors, intermediate hosts). Through a synthesis of published literature, we reviewed the life cycles and environmental persistence of 150 parasites and pathogens tracked by the World Health Organization's Global Burden of Disease study. We used those data to derive the time spent in each component of a pathogen's life cycle, including total time spent in humans versus all environmental stages. We found that nearly all infectious organisms were “environmentally mediated” to some degree, meaning that they spend time in reservoirs and can be transmitted from those reservoirs to human hosts. Correspondingly, many infectious diseases were primarily controlled through environmental interventions (e.g., vector control, water sanitation), whereas few (14%) were primarily controlled by integrated methods (i.e., combining medical and environmental interventions). Data on critical life history attributes for most of the 150 parasites and pathogens were difficult to find and often uncertain, potentially hampering efforts to predict disease dynamics and model interactions between life cycle time scales and infection control strategies. We hope that this synthetic review and associated database serve as a resource for understanding both common patterns among parasites and pathogens and important variability and uncertainty regarding particular infectious diseases. These insights can be used to improve systems-based approaches for controlling environmentally mediated diseases of humans in an era where the environment is rapidly changing. 
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  6. Schistosomiasis is a debilitating parasitic disease of poverty that affects more than 200 million people worldwide, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, and is clearly associated with the construction of dams and water resource management infrastructure in tropical and subtropical areas. Changes to hydrology and salinity linked to water infrastructure development may create conditions favorable to the aquatic vegetation that is suitable habitat for the intermediate snail hosts of schistosome parasites. With thousands of small and large water reservoirs, irrigation canals, and dams developed or under construction in Africa, it is crucial to accurately assess the spatial distribution of high-risk environments that are habitat for freshwater snail intermediate hosts of schistosomiasis in rapidly changing ecosystems. Yet, standard techniques for monitoring snails are labor-intensive, time-consuming, and provide information limited to the small areas that can be manually sampled. Consequently, in low-income countries where schistosomiasis control is most needed, there are formidable challenges to identifying potential transmission hotspots for targeted medical and environmental interventions. In this study, we developed a new framework to map the spatial distribution of suitable snail habitat across large spatial scales in the Senegal River Basin by integrating satellite data, high-definition, low-cost drone imagery, and an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered computer vision technique called semantic segmentation. A deep learning model (U-Net) was built to automatically analyze high-resolution satellite imagery to produce segmentation maps of aquatic vegetation, with a fast and robust generalized prediction that proved more accurate than a more commonly used random forest approach. Accurate and up-to-date knowledge of areas at highest risk for disease transmission can increase the effectiveness of control interventions by targeting habitat of disease-carrying snails. With the deployment of this new framework, local governments or health actors might better target environmental interventions to where and when they are most needed in an integrated effort to reach the goal of schistosomiasis elimination. 
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