NEW YORK • Researchers have developed a new method to pinpoint outbreaks of dengue fever by tracking phone calls to public health hotlines, a team of scientists said.
Analysing patterns of calls in Pakistan's Punjab region, the researchers forecast suspected dengue cases up to two weeks ahead of time with block-by-block accuracy, the researchers said in a study published on Friday in the journal Science Advances.
Dengue infections have increased dramatically over recent decades, making the virus the world's fastest-spreading tropical disease, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The virus, which has flu-like symptoms that can develop into the deadly dengue haemorrhagic fever, causes around 390 million infections a year globally, the UN agency says.
Though dengue seldom causes death, a complication called severe dengue is a leading cause of death among children in some Asian and Latin American countries, according to WHO.
The low-cost statistical method to track dengue is particularly adapted for nations lacking the resources to effectively monitor the spread of diseases, said the scientists from the United States, Pakistan and United Arab Emirates.
"Thousands of lives are lost every year in developing countries for failing to detect epidemics early because of the lack of real-time data on reported cases," said co-author Lakshminarayanan Subramanian, a professor at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
"We think our technique can be of use to public health officials in their fight against the spread of crippling diseases."