Elena Naumova, director of the Tufts Initiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Diseases (InForMid) and Associate Dean for Research at the Tufts School of Engineering, spoke last week as part of the Tufts Environmental Studies and Tufts Institute of the Environment Lunch and Learn program. Her presentation on the Environmental Indicators of Enteric Infections and Water Safety in Southern India covered student research projects sponsored through a collaboration between the Tufts School of Engineering and Christian Medical College in Vellore, India.
A mathematician by training, Naumova emphasized the importance of translating data into usable information that allows for action and policy.
Naumova began by laying out the importance of preventing waterborne diseases. Globally, there are 4 billion cases of diarrhea annually, 2.2 million of which lead to death. Of those 2.2 million, 80% of the deaths are among infants. Unsafe water is a large factor in these diseases.
Modern mathematical tools allow for an understanding of waterborne outbreaks in “temporal and spatial patterns”, Naumova said. “Practically all waterborne diseases exhibit strong seasonal patterns distinct for a specific pathogen in a given population [and] locality”, in a phenomenon known
as seasonality. An example familiar to New England residents, of course, would be the peaks of flu that occur in the winter. “Variability in seasonal characteristics can provide clues on important factors influencing disease occurrence, exposure, [and] spread.” These environmental factors, when they are within human control, could be a key to disease prevention. Climate change, however, will affect our ability to use these seasonal indicators as the patterns we have come to recognize begin to shift radically.
Naumova further presented statistics on the seasonality of cryptosporidiosis in the United States and the United Kingdom, salmonellosis in the United Status, and rotavirus in India.
She then laid out two studies conducted by some of her students, Dr. Stefan Collinet-Adler, Andrea Brown, Alexandra Kulinkina, and Negin Ashoori. Both studies examined the transmission of infectious diarrhea in 300 urban and rural households in the Vellore district of Tamil Nadu, India. The first study focused on the role of flies, which can carry pathogens such as norovirus, salmonella, and rotavirus. In the tests conducted, 72% of the flies tested positive for potential human pathogens. The second study used GIS to map ground water quality and distribution systems in Vellore.
Naumova here noted the importance of recognizing the difference between water quality and quantity: the focus of these studies was on quality, for lack of water leads to other severe problems but obviously cannot cause waterborne diseases.
Elena said she is always looking for students who are interested in going abroad and conducting research and will do whatever she can to make that possible!