Avian GIS models signal human risk for West Nile virus in Mississippi.
West Nile virus (WNV) poses a significant health risk for residents of Mississippi. Physicians and state health officials are interested in new and efficient methods for monitoring disease spread and predicting future outbreaks. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) models have the potential to support these efforts. Environmental conditions favorable for mosquito habitat were modeled using GIS to derive WNV risk maps for Mississippi. Variables important to WNV dissemination were selected and classified as static and dynamic. The static variables included road density, stream density, slope, and vegetation. The dynamic variable represented seasonal water budget and was calculated using precipitation and evaporation estimates. Significance tests provided deterministic evidence of variable importance to the models. Several models were developed to estimate WNV risk including a landscape-base model and seasonal climatic sub-models. P-values from t-tests guided variable importance ranking. Variables were ranked and weights assigned as follows: road density (0.4), stream density (0.3), slope (0.2) and vegetation (0.1). This landscape-base model was modified by climatic conditions to assess the importance of climate to WNV risk. Human case data at the zip code level were used to validate modeling results. All models were summarized by zip codes for interpretation and model validation. For all models, estimated risk was higher for zip codes with at least one human case than for zip codes where no human cases were recorded. Overall median measure of risk by zip code indicated that 67% of human cases occurred in the high-risk category. Modeling results indicated that dead bird occurrences are correlated with human WNV risk and can facilitate the assessment of environmental variables that contribute to that risk. Each variable's importance in GIS-based risk predictions was assigned deterministically. Our models indicated non-uniform distribution of risk across the state and showed elevated risk in urban and as well as rural areas. Model limitations include resolution of human data, zip code aggregation issues, and quality/availability of vegetation and stream density layers. Our approach verified that WNV risk can be modeled at the state level and can be modified for risk predictions of other vector-borne diseases in varied ecological regions.