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Human West Nile virus (WNV) infection was first detected in Cuyahoga county, Ohio, USA, in 2002. During that year’s extensive epidemic/epizootic among non-immune human and bird populations, the county experienced 155 cases of severe human West Nile neurological disease (WNND, incidence = 11.1 cases/100,000), with 11 fatalities. Structured serosurveys indicated that 1.9%, or ~ 26,000 of county residents (population = 1,372,303) were infected that year. In early 2003, in order to better focus monitoring and control efforts, we used a geographical information system (GIS) approach and spatial statistical analysis to identify the association of environmental factors and human population structure with the observed local risk for WNV transmission. Within the varied range of urban/suburban/ rural habitats across the 1186 km2 county, exploratory analysis indicated significant clustering of WNND risk in inner-ring suburbs. Subsequent discriminant factor analysis based on inputs of census and land-use/land cover data was found to effectively classify sub-areas of the county having low, medium and high WNV risk. On a 1036 ha quadrat scale of resolution, higher risk of human infection was significantly associated with higher-income areas, increased fractionation of habitat and older housing, while it was negatively associated with areas of agricultural land, wetland or forest. The areal classification of WNV transmission risk has been validated over time through detection of increased local Culex spp. mosquito density (2002-2006), and increased frequency of WNV positive mosquito pools within the medium- and high-risk quadrats. This timely working identification of the transmission scale effectively focused control interventions against newly invasive WNV in a complex North American habitat.
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