Criminal profiling technique targets killer diseases

This contour map shows the number of cases in Cairo, Egypt. The observed data points are shown as red circles, while the empirically identified sources are shown as blue dots.

A mathematical tool used by the Metropolitan Police and FBI has been adapted by researchers at Queen Mary University of London to help control outbreaks of malaria, and has the potential to target other infectious diseases.

In cases of serial crime such as murder or rape, police typically have too many suspects to consider, for example, the Yorkshire Ripper investigation in the UK generated a total of 268,000 names. To help prioritise these investigations, police forces around the world use a technique called geographic profiling, which uses the spatial locations of the crimes to make inferences about the criminal's likely anchor point – usually a home or workplace.

Writing in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, the team has shown how the maths that underpins can be adapted to target the control of , including malaria. Using data from an outbreak in Cairo, the scientists show how the new model could use the addresses of patients with malaria to locate the breeding sites of the mosquitoes that transmit the disease.

"The experts working in the field had to search almost 300 square km to find seven breeding sites, but our model found the same sites after searching just two thirds of this area," said Dr Steve Le Comber, a senior lecturer at QMUL's School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

"In fact our model found five of the seven sites after searching just 10.7 square km. This is potentially important since there is a lot of evidence suggesting that the best way to control outbreaks of is to attack the mosquito – but it is incredibly difficult to do in practice."

The mathematical approach takes just minutes on a computer, meaning that the method could be used in the early stages of epidemics, when control efforts are most likely to be effective – potentially stopping outbreaks before they spread.

Dr Le Comber added: "The model has potential to identify the source of other infectious diseases as well, and we're now working with public health bodies to develop it further for use with TB, cholera and Legionnaires' disease."

More information: Verity, R., Stevenson, M. D., Rossmo, D. K., Nichols, R. A., Le Comber, S. C. (2014), "Spatial targeting of infectious disease control: identifying multiple, unknown sources." Methods in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12190

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The buzz of the chase

Jul 30, 2008

Scientists from Queen Mary, University of London are helping to perfect a technique used to catch serial killers, by testing it on bumblebees.

Recommended for you

Recorded Ebola deaths top 7,000

14 hours ago

The worst Ebola outbreak on record has now killed more than 7,000 people, with many of the latest deaths reported in Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said as United Nations Secretary-General Ban ...

Liberia holds Senate vote amid Ebola fears (Update)

18 hours ago

Health workers manned polling stations across Liberia on Saturday as voters cast their ballots in a twice-delayed Senate election that has been criticized for its potential to spread the deadly Ebola disease.

Evidence-based recs issued for systemic care in psoriasis

Dec 19, 2014

(HealthDay)—For appropriately selected patients with psoriasis, combining biologics with other systemic treatments, including phototherapy, oral medications, or other biologic, may result in greater efficacy ...

Bacteria in caramel apples kills at least four in US

Dec 19, 2014

A listeria outbreak believed to originate from commercially packaged caramel apples has killed at least four people in the United States and sickened 28 people since November, officials said Friday.

Steroid-based treatment may answer needs of pediatric EoE patients

Dec 19, 2014

A new formulation of oral budesonide suspension, a steroid-based treatment, is safe and effective in treating pediatric patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), according to a new study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the official clinical practice journal ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.