Cases indeed spiked in New Mexico during early 2006. But no increase occurred in Colorado, which actually saw fewer hantavirus infections than the previous year.
On the other hand, Ford and colleagues said, "these results are not necessarily a failure of prediction." Instead, they suggested that people may have heeded the health warnings prompted by the prediction, avoiding deer mice habitats and hence the virus.
Public health officials would dearly love to be able to predict influenza outbreaks, and the seasonality of the disease has raised hopes that environmental data will somehow be used in predictive models, the researchers said. Unfortunately, scientists still don't understand the specific factors underlying the flu's seasonal nature.
If science can isolate the environmental drivers of seasonal diseases like influenza, better prediction will likely become a reality, they suggested.
"As we improve our understanding of the biology and ecology of the pathogen, vectors, and hosts, our ability to accurately link environmental variables, particularly those related to climate change, will improve," Ford and colleagues wrote. "What has become clear over the past few years is that satellite imaging can play a critical role in disease prediction and, therefore, inform our response to future outbreaks."