Locating suitable habitats for West Nile Virus-infected mosquitoes through association of environmental characteristics with infected mosquito locations: A case study in Shelby County, Tennessee


Background: Since its first detection in 2001, West Nile Virus (WNV) poses a significant health risk for residents of Shelby County in Tennessee. This situation forced public health officials to adopt efficient methods for monitoring disease spread and predicting future outbreaks. Analyses that use environmental variables to find suitable habitats for WNV-infected mosquitoes have the potential to support these efforts. Using the Mahalanobis Distance statistic, we identified areas of Shelby County that are ecologically most suitable for sustaining WNV, based on similarity of environmental characteristics to areas where WNV was found. The environmental characteristics in this study were based on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data, such as elevation, slope, land use, vegetation density, temperature, and precipitation. Results: Our analyses produced maps of likely habitats of WNV-infected mosquitoes for each week of August 2004, revealing the areas that are ecologically most suitable for sustaining WNV within the core of the Memphis urban area. By comparing neighbourhood social characteristics to the environmental factors that contribute to WNV infection, potential social drivers of WNV transmission were revealed in Shelby County. Results show that human population characteristics and housing conditions such as a high percentage of black population, low income, high rental occupation, old structures, and vacant housing are associated with the focal area of WNV identified for each week of the study period. Conclusion: We demonstrated that use of the Mahalanobis Distance statistic as a similarity index to assess environmental characteristics is a potential raster-based approach to identify areas ecologically most suitable for sustaining the virus. This approach was also useful to monitor changes over time for likely locations of infected mosquito habitats. This technique is very helpful for authorities when making decisions related to an integrated mosquito management plan and targeted health education outreach. © 2008 Ozdenerol et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

Publication Title

International Journal of Health Geographics