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Open Access Research

Tracking and visualization of space-time activities for a micro-scale flu transmission study

Feng Qi1* and Fei Du2

  • * Corresponding author: Feng Qi fqi@kean.edu

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 School of Environmental and Life Sciences, Kean University, 1000 Morris Ave., Union, NJ, 07083, USA

2 Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2013, 12:6  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-12-6

Published: 7 February 2013

Abstract

Background

Infectious diseases pose increasing threats to public health with increasing population density and more and more sophisticated social networks. While efforts continue in studying the large scale dissemination of contagious diseases, individual-based activity and behaviour study benefits not only disease transmission modelling but also the control, containment, and prevention decision making at the local scale. The potential for using tracking technologies to capture detailed space-time trajectories and model individual behaviour is increasing rapidly, as technological advances enable the manufacture of small, lightweight, highly sensitive, and affordable receivers and the routine use of location-aware devices has become widespread (e.g., smart cellular phones). The use of low-cost tracking devices in medical research has also been proved effective by more and more studies. This study describes the use of tracking devices to collect data of space-time trajectories and the spatiotemporal processing of such data to facilitate micro-scale flu transmission study. We also reports preliminary findings on activity patterns related to chances of influenza infection in a pilot study.

Methods

Specifically, this study employed A-GPS tracking devices to collect data on a university campus. Spatiotemporal processing was conducted for data cleaning and segmentation. Processed data was validated with traditional activity diaries. The A-GPS data set was then used for visual explorations including density surface visualization and connection analysis to examine space-time activity patterns in relation to chances of influenza infection.

Results

When compared to diary data, the segmented tracking data demonstrated to be an effective alternative and showed greater accuracies in time as well as the details of routes taken by participants. A comparison of space-time activity patterns between participants who caught seasonal influenza and those who did not revealed interesting patterns.

Conclusions

This study proved that tracking technology an effective technique for obtaining data for micro-scale influenza transmission research. The findings revealed micro-scale transmission hotspots on a university campus and provided insights for local control and prevention strategies.

Keywords:
Tracking technology; Space-time activity; GPS; Individual behaviour; Influenza; Micro-scale; Disease transmission