January 18, 2014

Vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks

The Council on Foreign Relations has built an interactive map showing outbreaks of the major vaccine-preventable diseases since mid-2008, based on news stories. Here’s the local map



The red circles are measles; the green are pertussis; blue are rubella.

There are two big limitations to the use of news stories as the source. The first is obvious from the map. That outbreak of 3500 pertussis cases in Western Australia wasn’t actually among the Ngaanyatjarra people of the Western Desert, where the circle is. It was mostly in Perth, but the story didn’t say that, just “Western Australia”.

The second limitation is that not everything gets reported. Here’s a map of more of the world



The small orange circles are  polio, and probably include every polio case diagnosed in the world. The larger, yellow circles include cholera and typhoid, and are just big outbreaks. The brown circles are mumps, which only seems to make the news in Europe and the Middle East. And there’s basically no pertussis reported in Africa or South Asia, because it’s underdiagnosed and not really news.


Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »