Background: Geographic profiling is a statistical tool originally developed in criminology to prioritise large lists of suspects in cases of serial crime. Here, we use two data sets--one historical and one modern--to show how it can be used to locate the sources of infectious disease.
Results: First, we re-analyse data from a classic epidemiological study, the 1854 London cholera outbreak. Using 321 disease sites as input, we evaluate the locations of 13 neighbourhood water pumps. The Broad Street pump--the outbreak's source--ranks first, situated in the top 0.2% of the geoprofile. We extend our study with an analysis of reported malaria cases in Cairo, Egypt, using 139 disease case locations to rank 59 mosquitogenic local water sources, seven of which tested positive for the vector Anopheles sergentii. Geographic profiling ranks six of these seven sites in positions 1-6, all in the top 2% of the geoprofile. In both analyses the method outperformed other measures of spatial central tendency.
Conclusions: We suggest that geographic profiling could form a useful component of integrated control strategies relating to a wide variety of infectious diseases, since evidence-based targeting of interventions is more efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective than untargeted intervention.