Integrating land cover and terrain characteristics to explain plague risks in Western Usambara Mountains, Tanzania: a geospatial approach
Literature suggests that higher resolution remote sensing data integrated in Geographic Information System (GIS) can provide greater possibility to refine the analysis of land cover and terrain characteristics for explanation of abundance and distribution of plague hosts and vectors and hence of health risk hazards to humans. These technologies are not widely used in East Africa for studies on diseases including plague. The objective of this study was to refine the analysis of single and combined land cover and terrain characteristics in order to gain an insight into localized plague infection risks in the West Usambara Mountains in north-eastern Tanzania. The study used a geospatial approach to assess the influence of land cover and terrain factors on the abundance and spatial distribution of plague hosts (small mammals) and plague vectors (fleas). It considered different levels of scale and resolution. Boosted Regression Tree (BRT) statistical method was used to clarify the relationships between land cover and terrain variables with small mammals and fleas. Results indicate that elevation positively influenced the presence of small mammals. The presence of fleas was clearly influenced by land management features such as miraba. Medium to high resolution remotely sensed data integrated in a GIS have been found to be quite useful in this type of analysis. These findings contribute to efforts on plague surveillance and awareness creation among communities on the probable risks associated with various landscape factors during epidemics.