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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Rabies Spreads Like Fire
11 September 2003 (All day)
MANCHESTER, U.K.--The starts and stalls of a forest fire as it jumps across a dry plain or balks at wet grass have helped scientists forecast the spread of raccoon rabies across New York state. The model is among the first to successfully gauge both how fast a disease will move and what route it is most likely to take.
Much of the research into predicting the spread of disease has focused on the pace of infection. Other models forecasted the progress from place to place, by presuming a steady diffusion of cases from the initial outbreak. But few models have taken into account the actual landscape. In the case of rabies, relevant features might include a river that blocks infected animals or a garbage truck that shuttles rabid raccoons from town to town.
Forest fire models rely heavily on landscape, so population biologist Leslie Real of Emory University in Atlanta and colleagues tried adapting them for disease. They plugged in data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a variant of rabies in raccoons that was first seen in Virginia and West Virginia in 1977 and has since moved steadily north. Real and collaborators fine-tuned the model with data from the disease's spread through Connecticut. They also factored in barriers such as rivers, as well as valleys, which they reasoned could funnel animals in a particular direction. Applying the model retrospectively, the researchers accurately predicted how rabies spread through New York state, Real's colleague ecologist Colin Russell told the meeting of the British Ecological Society here on 11 September.
“The thing I find most interesting is the model's ability to detect how geographic features of the landscape ... either block or focus the movement pattern of the disease,” says Andrew Dobson, an infectious disease ecologist at Princeton University in New Jersey. Dobson adds that one next step is to use the model to predict ways to stop the spread of the disease, perhaps by setting up barriers at key points. Meanwhile, Real and others have begun modifying the model for other diseases that are spread through close contact, such as HIV and tuberculosis.