Wagner, T., M.E. Benbow, T.O. Brenden, J. Qi, and R.C. Johnson. 2008. Buruli ulcer disease prevalence in Benin, West Africa: associations with land use/cover and the identification of disease clusters. International Journal of Health Geographics 7:25.
Background: Buruli ulcer (BU) disease, caused by infection with the environmental mycobacterium M. ulcerans, is an emerging infectious disease in many tropical and sub-tropical countries. Although vectors and modes of transmission remain unknown, it is hypothesized that the transmission of BU disease is associated with human activities in or around aquatic environments, and that characteristics of the landscape (e.g., land use/cover) play a role in mediating BU disease. Several studies performed at relatively small spatial scales (e.g., within a single village or region of a country) support these hypotheses; however, if BU disease is associated with land use/cover characteristics, either through spatial constraints on vector-host dynamics or by mediating human activities, then large-scale (i.e., country-wide) associations should also emerge. The objectives of this study were to (1) investigate associations between BU disease prevalence in villages in Benin, West Africa and surrounding land use/cover patterns and other map-based characteristics, and (2) identify areas with greater and lower than expected prevalence rates (i.e., disease clusters) to assist with the development of prevention and control programs. Results: Our landscape-based models identified low elevation, rural villages surrounded by forest land cover, and located in drainage basins with variable wetness patterns as being associated with higher BU disease prevalence rates. We also identified five spatial disease clusters. Three of the five clusters contained villages with greater than expected prevalence rates and two clusters contained villages with lower than expected prevalence rates. Those villages with greater than expected BU disease prevalence rates spanned a fairly narrow region of south-central Benin. Conclusion: Our analyses suggest that interactions between natural land cover and human alterations to the landscape likely play a role in the dynamics of BU disease. For example, urbanization, potentially by providing access to protected water sources, may reduce the likelihood of becoming infected with BU disease. Villages located at low elevations may have higher BU disease prevalence rates due to their close spatial proximity to high risk environments. In addition, forest land cover and drainage basins with variable wetness patterns may be important for providing suitable growth conditions for M. ulcerans, influencing the distribution and abundance of vectors, or mediating vector-human interactions. The identification of disease clusters in this study provides direction for future research aimed at better understanding these and other environmental and social determinants involved in BU disease outbreaks.