Mobile phone data highlights the role of mass gatherings in the spreading of cholera outbreaks
The spatiotemporal evolution of human mobility and the related fluctuations of population density are known to be key drivers of the dynamics of infectious disease outbreaks. These factors are particularly relevant in the case of mass gatherings, which may act as hotspots of disease transmission and spread. Understanding these dynamics, however, is usually limited by the lack of accurate data, especially in developing countries. Mobile phone call data provide a new, first-order source of information that allows the tracking of the evolution of mobility fluxes with high resolution in space and time. Here, we analyze a dataset of mobile phone records of ∼150,000 users in Senegal to extract human mobility fluxes and directly incorporate them into a spatially explicit, dynamic epidemiological framework. Our model, which also takes into account other drivers of disease transmission such as rainfall, is applied to the 2005 cholera outbreak in Senegal, which totaled more than 30,000 reported cases. Our findings highlight the major influence that a mass gathering, which took place during the initial phase of the outbreak, had on the course of the epidemic. Such an effect could not be explained by classic, static approaches describing human mobility. Model results also show how concentrated efforts toward disease control in a transmission hotspot could have an important effect on the large-scale progression of an outbreak.