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Association of West Nile virus illness and urban landscapes in Chicago and Detroit

Marilyn O Ruiz1*, Edward D Walker2, Erik S Foster3, Linn D Haramis4 and Uriel D Kitron1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathobiology, University of Illinois, 2001 South Lincoln Ave, Urbana, IL, USA

2 Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, Michigan State University, 2215 Biomed Phys Sci Bldg, East Lansing, MI, USA

3 Michigan Department of Community Health, 201 Townsend St, Lansing, MI, USA

4 Illinois Department of Public Health, 535 W. Jefferson St, Springfield, IL, USA

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International Journal of Health Geographics 2007, 6:10  doi:10.1186/1476-072X-6-10

Published: 12 March 2007



West Nile virus infection in humans in urban areas of the Midwestern United States has exhibited strong spatial clustering during epidemic years. We derived urban landscape classes from the physical and socio-economic factors hypothesized to be associated with West Nile Virus (WNV) transmission and compared those to human cases of illness in 2002 in Chicago and Detroit. The objectives were to improve understanding of human exposure to virus-infected mosquitoes in the urban context, and to assess the degree to which environmental factors found to be important in Chicago were also found in Detroit.


Five urban classes that partitioned the urban space were developed for each city region. The classes had many similarities in the two settings. In both regions, the WNV case rate was considerably higher in the urban class associated with the Inner Suburbs, where 1940–1960 era housing dominates, vegetation cover is moderate, and population density is moderate. The land cover mapping approach played an important role in the successful and consistent classification of the urban areas.


The analysis demonstrates how urban form and past land use decisions can influence transmission of a vector-borne virus. In addition, the results are helpful to develop hypotheses regarding urban landscape features and WNV transmission, they provide a structured method to stratify the urban areas to locate representative field study sites specifically for WNV, and this analysis contributes to the question of how the urban environment affects human health.