How Will Climate Change Impact Our Risk of Malaria?

Jan 19, 2011, 05:00 ET from Millersville University

Millersville Professor Takes on Vector-Borne Disease Project

MILLERSVILLE, Pa., Jan. 19, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Thanks to a $250,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant we may soon know how climate change will impact our risk of malaria and dengue fever. Dr. Kathleen Schreiber, professor of geography at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, received the grant from the NSF sponsored Vector-Borne Disease Project to measure how environmental temperature change influences the transmission and disease risk of the two diseases.

There are two climate models used in the project: the downscaling model which produces the localized temperature projections and the epidemiological model. Schreiber says that when the two are mixed together, researchers can predict the risk of infection in the future.  "Temperature affects the biting rate of mosquitoes and the incubation of parasites," said Schreiber. "With a higher temperature, for example, malaria incubation in the mosquito does not take as long. Therefore, the mosquito is more likely to become infected before dying and transmit the disease to others."

The project will generate information that explains the influence of climatic factors on the distribution and dynamics of malaria and dengue, the two most significant vector-borne diseases globally. That information can then be used to let people know of the links between climate and disease and develop practices for prevention, control and adaptation. The focus on these two diseases will provide insights to others such as West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

Schreiber's grant for $250,000 is part of a larger $1.9 million NSF grant to Penn State University.  She is collaborating with Penn State researchers to evaluate the effect of realistic temperature variation on processes that determine disease transmission intensity, both now and under climate change projections. Schreiber's research focuses on improvement of downscaling technologies to improve the accuracy of future temperature estimates at the regional-to-local levels for climate impacts analysis.

Downscaling is a procedure to take global-scale temperature projections and modify it to more accurately give a temperature value for a particular place. The temperature results are combined with land-use change and biological data to develop models that capture the effects of environmental temperature on disease dynamics over time.

At Millersville Schreiber teaches a variety of environmental courses that include climate concepts. "Climate and Society" investigates climate impacts on human health, agriculture and the built environment. "I am making students in my classes aware of the project and all that it entails," said Schreiber.

SOURCE Millersville University