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Weather Forecasts Help Fight Disease Outbreak

GEST Center's Assaf Anyamba Helps to Slow Deadly Fever in Kenya

Photo Caption: UMBC/NASA scientist Assaf Anyamba.

Update: Feb. 9, 2007. Read more about Dr. Anyamba's work in the Baltimore Sun.

Recently, Assaf Anyamba, a research associate scientist at UMBC’s Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology (GEST) Center, got a first-hand look at how his research helped save lives.

Anyamba, an expert on using earth science satellite data to see the links between weather, disease and famine, was on personal travel in East Africa when an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever -- a deadly hemorrhagic disease -- began in Kenya. A similar outbreak the same time of year in 1997-1998 killed about 400 people.

But this time Anyamba and a team of earth science and public health colleagues from NASA, the Department of Defense and the USDA had seen the outbreak coming. Back in October, Anyamba and other scientists tracked satellite imaging data and weather forecasts predicting warmer ocean temperatures that would result in widespread and heavy rainfall and a spike in the mosquito population -- perfect conditions for Rift Valley Fever.

Photo Caption: Assaf Anyamba (right) surveys a typical breeding environment for Rift Valley Fever-carrying mosquitos northeast of Nairobi, Kenya. He is joined by Kenneth Linthicum (left) director of the USDA Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, and Elizabeth Kioko, a research entomologist with the DOD-Walter Reed Project, Kenya.

Thanks to their work, the Kenyan government partnered with international science and public health teams and had time to take preventative steps, such as outlawing the ritual sacrifice of cattle, sheep and goats during the Muslim Eid festival. These and other steps helped reduce human contact with likely animal carriers of the disease. This year's outbreak death toll was limited to 104 people so far.

Anyamba was tapped by the Department of Defense - Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response System (DoD-GEIS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to monitor conditions associated with vector-borne disease outbreaks and provide early warning information to prevent and minimize the impacts of outbreaks such as the one in Kenya.

In recent months, he presented his findings on using earth science to prevent diseases like Rift Valley to various prestigious international health groups, including the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the U.S. Rift Valley Fever Working Group. In February and March, he will be doing assessment fieldwork in Kenya to monitor the success of the disease prevention efforts.

Image Caption: A map produced by Anyamba's research team predicted the Kenyan outbreak of Rift Valley Fever.

Anyamba's work helping to contain the outbreak received international media attention from the Associated Press, The Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, New York Times and many other major news outlets.

"This is a culmination of 10 years of dedicated work," said Anyamba. "It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to translate scientific data and analysis results into products that benefit global public health."

Posted: January 26, 2007, 12:00 PM