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New publication: Ambient air pollution and non-communicable respiratory illness in sub-Saharan Africa: a systematic review of the literature

New publication from our Air Pollution and Health team out today in BMC Environmental Health:


Aerosol pollutants are known to raise the risk of development of non-communicable respiratory diseases (NCRDs) such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and allergic rhinitis. Sub-Saharan Africa’s rapid pace of urbanization, economic expansion, and population growth raise concerns of increasing incidence of NCRDs. This research characterizes the state of research on pollution and NCRDs in the 46 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This research systematically reviewed the literature on studies of asthma; chronic bronchitis; allergic rhinitis; and air pollutants such as particulate matter, ozone, NOx, and sulfuric oxide.


We searched three major databases (PubMed, Web of Science, and Scopus) using the key words “asthma”, “chronic bronchitis”, “allergic rhinitis”, and “COPD” with “carbon monoxide (CO)”, “sulfuric oxide (SO)”, “ozone (O3)”, “nitrogen dioxide (NO2)”, and “particulate matter (PM)”, restricting the search to the 46 countries that comprise SSA. Only papers published in scholarly journals with a defined health outcome in individuals and which tested associations with explicitly measured or modelled air exposures were considered for inclusion. All candidate papers were entered into a database for review.


We found a total of 362 unique research papers in the initial search of the three databases. Among these, 14 met the inclusion criteria. These papers comprised studies from just five countries. Nine papers were from South Africa; two from Malawi; and one each from Ghana, Namibia, and Nigeria. Most studies were cross-sectional. Exposures to ambient air pollutants were measured using spectrometry and chromatography. Some studies created composite measures of air pollution using a range of data layers. NCRD outcomes were measured by self-reported health status and measures of lung function (spirometry). Populations of interest were primarily schoolchildren, though a few studies focused on secondary school students and adults.


The paucity of research on NCRDs and ambient air pollutant exposures is pronounced within the African continent. While capacity to measure air quality in SSA is high, studies targeting NCRDs should work to draw attention to questions of outdoor air pollution and health. As the climate changes and SSA economies expand and countries urbanize, these questions will become increasingly important.”

New publication: Environmental and Household-Based Spatial Risks for Tungiasis in an Endemic Area of Coastal Kenya

New publication! I started working on this cool project on tungiasis (jiggers) with colleagues in Kenya and Japan way back in 2014. Today, I am happy to say that after much ado our work has finally seen the light of day, thanks to Nagasaki PhD student (and soon to be Dr.) Ayako Hyuga. It appears today in the journal Tropical Medicine and Infectious Disease (MDPI).

Environmental and Household-Based Spatial Risks for Tungiasis in an Endemic Area of Coastal Kenya

#Tungiasis is a #cutaneous #parasitosis caused by an embedded female sand flea. The distribution of cases can be spatially heterogeneous even in areas with similar risk profiles. This study assesses household and remotely sensed environmental factors that contribute to the geographic distribution of tungiasis cases in a rural area along the Southern Kenyan Coast. Data on household tungiasis case status, demographic and socioeconomic information, and geographic locations were recorded during regular survey activities of the Health and Demographic Surveillance System, mainly during 2011. Data were joined with other spatial data sources using latitude/longitude coordinates. Generalized additive models were used to predict and visualize spatial risks for tungiasis. The household-level prevalence of tungiasis was 3.4% (272/7925). There was a 1.1% (461/41,135) prevalence of infection among all participants. A significant spatial variability was observed in the unadjusted model (p-value < 0.001). The number of children per household, earthen floor, organic roof, elevation, aluminum content in the soil, and distance to the nearest animal reserve attenuated the odds ratios and partially explained the spatial variation of tungiasis. Spatial heterogeneity in tungiasis risk remained even after a factor adjustment. This suggests that there are possible unmeasured factors associated with the complex ecology of sand fleas that may contribute to the disease’s uneven distribution.” #environmental #kenya #NTD #NeglectedTropicalDisease #parasitology #globalhealth #publichealth

New paper out: “Indoor apparent temperature, cognition, and daytime sleepiness among low-income adults in a temperate climate”

New paper out! I’m really proud to have been a part of this research, now published in Indoor Air (Wiley)

We put temperature monitors in 34 low income Detroit homes and tested to see if high temperatures had anything to do with daytime sleepiness or word recall. 

“The burden of temperature-associated mortality and hospital visits is significant, but temperature’s effects on non-emergency health outcomes is less clear. This burden is potentially greater in low-income households unable to afford efficient heating and cooling. We examined short-term associations between indoor temperatures and cognitive function and daytime sleepiness in low-income residents of Detroit, Michigan. Apparent temperature (AT, based on temperature and humidity) was recorded hourly in 34 participant homes between July 2019-March 2020. Between July-October 2019, 18 participants were administered word list immediate (WLL) and delayed (WLD) recall tests (10-point scales) and the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (24-point scale) 2–4 times. We applied longitudinal models with nonlinear distributed lags of temperature up to 7 days prior to testing. Indoor temperatures ranged 8–34°C overall and 15–34°C on survey days. We observed a 0.4 (95% CI: 0.0, 0.7) point increase in WLL and 0.4 (95% CI: 0.0, 0.9) point increase in WLD scores per 2°C increase in AT. Results suggested decreasing sleepiness scores with decreasing nighttime AT below 22°C. Low-income Detroit residents experience uncomfortably high and low indoor temperatures. Indoor temperature may influence cognitive function and sleepiness, although we did not observe deleterious effects of higher temperatures.”

New publication: An urban-to-rural continuum of malaria risk: new analytic approaches characterize patterns in Malawi

12 years in the making! Our new paper from partners at the University of Michigan and the #Malawi College of Medicine on new approaches to defining urban and rural environments in the context of malaria risk is now out in #Malaria Journal.

It was the last chapter in my dissertation to be published (all the rest were published when I was still in grad school.)Short version: malaria is complicated and really local. Malaria transmits poorly in urban and environments and well in rural environments. There’s urban like spaces in “rural” areas and rural-like spaces in “urban” areas, demanding a more nuanced view of what those terms really mean.

We know that malaria is a “rural” problem, but not all “rural” spaces are the same. Even in the country, there are “urban like” spaces and in “rural like” spaces even in the largest cities in Sub-Saharan Africa. Could those spaces impact malaria risk? If so, shouldn’t we redefine what we mean by urban vs. rural to inform intervention strategies to better target resources?

Here, we combine GIS and statistical methods with a house to house malaria survey in Malawi to create and test a new composite index of urbanicity and apply that to create a more nuanced risk map.


The urban–rural designation has been an important risk factor in infectious disease epidemiology. Many studies rely on a politically determined dichotomization of rural versus urban spaces, which fails to capture the complex mosaic of infrastructural, social and environmental factors driving risk. Such evaluation is especially important for Plasmodium transmission and malaria disease. To improve targeting of anti-malarial interventions, a continuous composite measure of urbanicity using spatially-referenced data was developed to evaluate household-level malaria risk from a house-to-house survey of children in Malawi.

Children from 7564 households from 8 districts in Malawi were tested for presence of Plasmodium parasites through finger-prick blood sampling and slide microscopy. A survey questionnaire was administered and latitude and longitude coordinates were recorded for each household. Distances from households to features associated with high and low levels of development (health facilities, roads, rivers, lakes) and population density were used to produce a principal component analysis (PCA)-based composite measure for all centroid locations of a fine geo-spatial grid covering Malawi. Regression methods were used to test associations of the urbanicity measure against Plasmodium infection status and to predict parasitaemia risk for all locations in Malawi.

Infection probability declined with increasing urbanicity. The new urbanicity metric was more predictive than either a governmentally defined rural/urban dichotomous variable or a population density variable. One reason for this was that 23% of cells within politically defined rural areas exhibited lower risk, more like those normally associated with “urban” locations.

Mark WilsonDon MathangaVeronica Berrocal#malaria#globalhealth#publichealth#GIS#spatialanalysis#maps#Malawi#Africa#Plasmodium#surveys#health#medicine#environmental#data

Do stray dogs raise risk for human infections of a skin burrowing flea in Kenya?

Are dogs associated with infections by a skin burrowing flea in Kenya? Masanobu Ono and I with Kensuke Goto, Satoshi Kaneko, mwatasa Changoma just published a paper on #tungiasis in the journal Tropical Medicine and Health.

Most people haven’t heard of tungiasis, an ectopic skin disease caused by the skin burrowing parasite, T. pentrans. It causes itching, pain, is associated with serious secondary bacterial infections, gangrene, social exclusion and debilitation. It primarily afflicts the very young and very old and is found almost exclusively in the poorest parts of the poorest parts of the world. It fits the classic definition of a neglected tropical disease.

We explored associations of wildlife and domesticated animals with household level tungiasis in Kenya using a two stage complex sampling based survey in an area adjacent to a wildlife preserve.


Tungiasis is a ectopic skin disease caused by some species of fleas in the Tunga genus, most notably T. penetrans. The disease afflicts poor and marginalized communities in developing countries. Transmission of tungiasis comprises a complex web of factors including domesticated animals and wildlife. This research explores animal and environmental risk factors for tungiasis in an area adjacent to a wildlife reserve in Kwale, Kenya.

A two-stage complex sampling strategy was used. Households were selected from three areas in and around Kwale Town, Kenya, an area close to the Kenyan Coast. Households were listed as positive if at least one member had tungiasis. Each household was administered a questionnaire regarding tungiasis behaviors, domesticated animal assets, and wild animal species that frequent the peridomiciliary area. Associations of household tungiasis were tests with household and environmental variables using regression methods.

The study included 319 households. Of these, 41 (12.85%) were found to have at least one person who had signs of tungiasis. There were 295 (92.48%) households that possessed at least one species of domesticated animal. It was reported that wildlife regularly come into the vicinity of the home 90.59% of households. Presence of dogs around the home (OR 3.85; 95% CI 1.84; 8.11) and proximity to the park were associated with increased risk for tungiasis infestation in humans in a multivariate regression model.

Human tungiasis is a complex disease associated with domesticated and wild animals. Canines in particular appear to be important determinants of household level risk.


We published a new paper on Covid-19 and ER visits for suicide attempts/self harm incidents in Epidemiology and Community Health today

Rachel Bergmans, an epidemiologist from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (and soon the University of Michigan Medical School) and I recently wrote a paper on the impact of Covid-19 and Covid-19 policy in the state of Michigan on emergency room visits for suicide and self harm incidents.

I am happy to say that it appeared today in Epidemiology and Community Health and encourage everyone to read it here.

Many worried that Covid-19 and the resulting “lockdown” measures would result in rapid increases in suicide attempts due to increased unemployment and social isolation. We did not find an increase in ER visits for self harm and suicide attempts at the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI. In fact, we found a decline in visits that continued into the winter.

Though it is impossible to know (from this data) what the actual reasons for this decline were, these results suggest that the Covid-19 crisis might not be comparable to previous economic downturns. It might suggest that efforts to financially support those left out of work by the shutdown might mitigate the worst effects of an rapid unemployment.

I am very proud of this work, here is the abstract:


Objective Determine the early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on emergency department (ED) encounters for suicide attempt and intentional self-harm at a regional tertiary academic medical centre in Washtenaw County, Michigan, which is one of the wealthier and more diverse counties in the state.

Methods Interrupted time series analysis of daily ED encounters from October 2015 through October 2020 for suicide attempt and intentional self-harm (subject n=3002; 62% female; 78% Caucasian) using an autoregressive integrated moving average modelling approach.

Results There were 39.9% (95% CI 22.9% to 53.1%) fewer ED encounters for suicide attempt and intentional self-harm during the first 12 weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic (ie, on or after 10 March 2020, when the first cases of COVID-19 were identified in Michigan).

Conclusions Fewer individuals sought emergency care for suicide-related behaviour during the earlier phase of the COVID-19 pandemic than expected when compared to prior years. This suggests initial outbreaks of COVID-19 and state of emergency executive orders did not increase suicide-related behaviour in the short term. More work is needed to determine long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide-related behaviour and whether there are high-risk groups.

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