New Study Questions Thinking About How Vector-Borne Pathogens Spread

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the “trail of the most rapid transmission of human infections does not lead through large, public gather places, but from house-to-house.”

The study took place on the island of Iquitos in Peru as researchers sought to discover how dengue fever outbreaks started. “The findings provide a different way for thinking about how a vector-borne pathogen may spread through a population, and have implications for better disease surveillance and control,” according to disease ecologist and Emory University researcher Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec.

To discover how the virus spreads from person to person, researchers tracked and mapped outbreak patterns of two large neighborhoods. “When a case of dengue was confirmed through a blood test, social workers would interview the patient, recording all the places the patient went during the 15 days leading up to the onset of fever,” according to the article. The data was then plotted using GIS technology.

Dengue fever has not impacted the United States since a 2009-10 outbreak in the Florida Keys. But while we are relatively unaffected by dengue here, the results of the study provide food for thought about how we perceive infection to spread.

“We suspect that the importance of human movement that we observed in Iquitos will hold in other populations,” according to Vazeuez-Prokopec.