Using Environmental Clues to Better Predict Disease Outbreaks Topic of Lecture

Published: April 09, 2015

Using Environmental Clues to Better Predict Disease Outbreaks Topic of Lecture

The College of Science and Engineering hosted Dr. Rita R. Colwell, PH.D., Professor of Maryland College Park and Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, on April 7.

Colwell’s speech “Climate, Health, and Cholera in Our Time,” covered the close interaction between the environment and infectious diseases such as malaria and cholera, based on research during the mid-1980s using satellite sensors. Further research has also provided models to better understand and predict disease epidemics, notably vector-born diseases.  

The recent studies of the cholera epidemic in Haiti provided evidence that an early warning system for infectious diseases can be developed, providing a powerful tool for protecting public health and, for measuring effects of climate change on human health, Colwell contends.

Findings in genomic analyses of Vibrio cholerae, have also provided additional evidence of multiple sources of cholera epidemics. This discovery suggests preventative measures for infectious disease in the twenty-first century must incorporate genomics and satellite observations.

Colwell, previously served as the director of the National Science Foundation, and the co-chair of the Committee on Science of the National Science and Technology Council. Colwell has also held several advisory positions in the U.S. government, nonprofit science policy organizations, private foundations, and the international scientific research community. She has been awarded 57 honorary degrees from institutions of higher education, and various awards including the 2006 National Medal of Science awarded by the president of the United States.