Phone records could be used to predict the geographical spread and timing of dengue fever epidemics, new research shows.
Climate change is increasing the range of the mosquito that transmits the dengue virus and increasing international travel is also spreading the disease across borders, making it the world's most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne disease.
By using the largest data set of mobile phone records ever analysed to estimate human mobility, researchers from Harvard have developed a new model that can predict epidemics and provide critical early warning to policy makers.
"Accurate predictive models identifying changing vulnerability to dengue outbreaks are necessary for epidemic preparedness and containment of the virus," said Caroline Buckee, assistant professor of epidemiology and the study's senior author.
"Because mobile phone data is continuously being collected, they could be used to help national control programs plan in near-real time."
The researchers analysed data from a large dengue outbreak in Pakistan in 2013 and compared it to a transmission model they developed based on climate information and mobility data gleaned from anonymised call records of nearly 40 million Telenor Pakistan mobile phone subscribers.
The team found that in-country mobility patterns revealed by the call records could be used to accurately predict the geographical spread and timing of outbreaks in locations of recent epidemics and emerging trouble spots.