Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Solving The Ebola Enigma: Satellites Will Provide Clues

23.12.2003


As a new outbreak of Ebola haemorrhagic fever strikes northwestern Congo, ESA is set to gather satellite data to help resolve the scientific enigma of this deadly disease.


Extract of a radar image centred on a cliff which works as a geographical barrier between two regions in the studied area : on the left, outbreaks have been registered, on the right, none have taken place. Satellite data being supplied to CIRMF researchers may help highlight patterns in the way Ebola strikes to help discover the mysterious host organism of the virus.

Credits: CIRMF


This CIRMF map illustrates the first source locations of Ebola virus outbreaks since 1994 along north eastern Gabon and the west basin of the Republic of Congo.

Credits: CIRMF



Whenever Ebola strikes Central Africa it can kill in large numbers. More than two dozen people have so far died during the latest epidemic, centred on the town of Mbomo in the Cuvette West region of Congo, near the Gabon border.

The disease causes runaway internal bleeding in humans and also apes. The Ebola virus undoubtedly has its home in deep tropical jungle, but its natural host organism or ’reservoir’ remains unknown.


"Humans get infected only when an individual gets into contact with an already-infected animal," said Ghislain Moussavou of the Gabon-based International Centre for Medical Research (CIRMF).

"In Gabon and Congo there were no human outbreaks between 1998 and 2000, but we can’t affirm no outbreak occurred among some fauna. Mostly it is the animal population that is damaged – particularly gorillas and chimpanzees."

The origin of the current Congo outbreak has been traced back to the end of October, when hunters from Mbomo ate a wild boar they found dead in the jungle.

The very fact infected animals sicken and die shows they are not the elusive Ebola reservoir. CIRMF – equipped with a rare Level 4 Biosafety Laboratory engineered for the study of dangerous pathogens – is on the hunt for whatever organism actually serves as the long-term virus host by testing the blood of captured jungle animals.

The sheer biological diversity and geographical inaccessibility of the Central African rainforest makes that a difficult task.

However from next year ESA will be supplying Earth Observation (EO) data of the region to CIRMF as one component of a new project called Epidemio.

Moussavou hopes that this data - once imported into geographical information system (GIS) software - may provide some additional clues: "Characterising the ecological parameters of the whole area of study just can’t be done just by ground-based means. But remote sensing and GIS can do it at low cost, and with regular updating a possibility.

"The CIRMF team carrying out the serological study on animal populations concentrates its efforts on the gorilla sanctuary of Lossi in Congo, where a high mortality of gorillas has been documented during previous epidemics. But Lossi is located in deep forest, more than 15km from the nearest vehicle track. The sanctuary itself measures 400 sq km, and a total sampling is practically impossible in time and space.

"Assuming there are many deep forest locations infected by the virus, and with the goal in mind of diversifying the areas sampled to improve the results of the serological study, a preliminary identification and description of these sites is necessary. Remote sensing can help identify such sites and focus the efforts there."

By mapping the areas where infected animals are found within a GIS, areas with similar environmental features can be highlighted as suspected sites for priority study. And in future CIRMF plans to begin a study of Ebola antibody prevalence in the human population, helping to identify potential infection risk zones.

"With a GIS we can manage, organise and display data from a variety of different sources," Moussavou added. "Assuming this, our approach includes spatial and temporal study of the dynamics of vegetation state, fluctuations in water body levels and climate changes – all of which we can obtain from satellites."

Detailed meteorological data – currently almost non-existent – could be important because the periodicity of Ebola outbreaks points to a seasonal component: "This suggests particular ecological conditions could characterise the reservoir host habitat," Moussavou concluded.

Simon Pinnock | ESA
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/SEMWG5VZJND_Improving_0.html

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Listening in: Acoustic monitoring devices detect illegal hunting and logging
14.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

nachricht How fires are changing the tundra’s face
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Plasmonic biosensors enable development of new easy-to-use health tests

14.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective

14.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

BigH1 -- The key histone for male fertility

14.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>