A recent report by European investigators has demonstrated how cell phone records may reveal human mobility patterns that contribute to the spread of cholera. These recent findings highlight the important role a mass gathering of millions had in spreading the disease and how providing safe drinking water and improving sanitation at locations where mass influxes of people are anticipated could limit future outbreaks (Finger F et al. PNAS. 2016;113(23):6421-6426).
The researchers used cell phone data to study the spread of cholera in 2005 in Senegal, an epidemic linked to an annual religious pilgrimage to the city of Touba. The pilgrimage took place in late March of that year, when an estimated 3 million pilgrims traveled to the city, after which a period of heavy rains and flooding occurred in the country. Over the course of a few weeks, cholera cases jumped from a few hundred in the area around Touba to more than 27 000 throughout the country. Investigators theorized that the pilgrims who contracted cholera in Touba brought it home to their local towns, where the rains increased the risk of cholera bacteria contaminating drinking water, further spreading infection.
Friedrich MJ. Cell Phone Data Help Investigators Understand Cholera Spread. JAMA. 2016;316(3):259. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.9027