Assessment tools in support of epidemiological investigation of airborne dispersion of pathogens

Ulrik Bo Pedersen, MSc, John-Erik Stig Hansen, DMCs


Human health threats posed by airborne pathogens are difficult to handle for healthcare responders due to the fact that the contaminated area is not immediately recognizable. By means of wind dispersion modeling, it is possible to estimate the extent and geographical position of hazardous areas and health impact.
Contemporary modeling tools can run on standard PCs, with short processing time and with easy-to-use interfaces. This enables health professionals without modeling experience to assess consequences of dispersion incidents, for example, from accidental releases from industries, shedding of pathogens from infectious animals or humans, as well as intentional releases caused by terrorist activity.
Dispersion assessments can provide response managers with a chance to get on top of events. In the absence of modeling, reliable estimates of hazard areas may not be available until no earlier than the appearance of the first cases or after time-consuming sampling and laboratory analysis.
In this article, the authors describe the concept of using wind dispersion assessments in epidemiological field investigations of naturally occurring disease outbreaks, as well as for bioterror scenarios. They describe the specifications of user friendly and real-time functional wind dispersion modeling systems that can serve as decision support tools during outbreak investigations and outline some of the currently available software packages.


airborne dispersion, dispersion modeling, epidemiolgy, bacteria, contamination

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