ATD: Collaborative Research: Predicting The Threat of Vector-Borne Illnesses Using Spatiotemporal Weather Patterns
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Vector-borne diseases affect virtually everyone on earth. Mosquitoes are the most widely distributed disease vectors and are a serious threat to human life and health. West Nile virus (WNV) is one of the mosquito-borne diseases for which there is still no effective treatment; to date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported over 40,000 cases across the United States. Temperature and precipitation are the two most important weather variables that affect mosquito populations and thus affect the WNV transmission cycle. The mosquito infection rate (MIR) is considered an important mediator to study WNV risk. Based on surveillance data for WNV in Illinois, this project aims to develop new methodologies and algorithms to study WNV and MIR using weather and environmental variables. Specifically, the investigators plan first to make predictions of MIR and then characterize the spatial pattern of temperature and precipitation to identify the risk level of WNV human illness and MIR. They will also establish a WNV Index to provide a reliable and interpretable warning for vector-borne disease risk. Finally, since mosquito-borne diseases are particularly affected by rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and a higher frequency of extreme weather events, the project aims to both quantitatively and qualitatively project the current risk to the future under climate change. The research will foster fundamental statistical methodology development as well as collaborations between statistics and public health. Graduate and undergraduate students will be engaged in aspects of the scientific research. The project will provide new results on the impact of climate change on national security, of general interest and importance to the wider public and policymakers.The methods of this project include a spatially-varying-coefficient model with functional weather covariates to make predictions of MIR, as well as a multiple-testing approach to characterize the spatial pattern of temperature and precipitation for ultimately classifying the weather pattern into different risk levels with respect to WNV. The statistical models and algorithms learned from the historical data will be applied to downscaled future weather data to study the impact of climate change on WNV human illness and MIR. The analyses will be based on massive data including WNV human cases, MIR, current and future spatio-temporal stochastic weather processes, land cover, and the length of daylight. The statistical methods used in the project are not only effective for this WNV study but can be a general methodology for a wide range of vector-borne diseases. The spatially-varying-coefficient model with functional covariates takes the continuous and dynamic influence of the retrospective weather on MIR into account while allowing the relationship between MIR and weather and other environmental variables to vary over a spatial domain. The characterization of the spatial weather pattern and the establishment of WNV Index provide a new perspective to study and prevent WNV risk. Compared to previous methods that evaluate the difference between two spatio-temporal random fields as a whole, the multiple-testing approach in this project can detect exactly where the differences occur. This feature is crucial for regional risk detection. Quantifying the impact of climate change on vector-borne diseases is essential to policymakers; the results of the project are expected to provide a reliable resource for such purposes.This award reflects NSF''s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation''s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.