Transmission Lines

Infectious diseases are not equal-opportunity illnesses. Much depends on location, income and access to clean water, medical care and public health services. For example, mosquito control is still a bulwark against malaria and yellow fever. Historically, trade routes were highways for pathogens such as Vibrio cholera and Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that cause cholera and plague respectively.

The close relationship between geography and disease is revealed in a new interactive atlas produced by Oregon State University students. The Atlas of Infectious Diseases combines global data on wealth, water, health care and historical and modern diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, polio and Ebola.

Atlas_image_11“Geography introduces a multiscale analysis of the distribution and spread of infectious diseases between individuals and across regions,” says Brooke Marston, one of the authors and a graduate student in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. Marston was one of 19 students who produced the atlas in a computer-assisted cartography course taught by Assistant Professor Bernhard Jenny.

The biggest challenge, she adds, was getting access to data. “There was not always a wealth of data readily available. Additionally, privacy laws may require data to be aggregated and stripped of individual identifiers, making it difficult to visualize data on a finer scale.”

The atlas was produced for the iPad and can be downloaded free from the iBooks Store or the OSU Cartography and Geovisualization Group’s website, A non-interactive version for desktop computers and other tablets is also available.

The atlas received the 2014 New Mapmaker Award from the British Cartographic Society and the National Geographic Society and the 2014 NACIS (North American Cartographic Information Society) Student Dynamic Map Competition Award for Best Narrative Map.