Researchers are using drones to track malaria

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America’s got pretty good at using drones to hunt and kill big tangible things, but Hellfire missiles and Reapers aren’t all that good at tracking little insects. But that hasn’t stopped researchers from using drones to help fight the spread of infectious disease. Live Science has a great write-up on the work of Chris Drakeley and fellow professors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who have been using a small fixed-wing drone to track the spread of a particular malaria parasite in macaque monkeys and humans. 

In a remote area of Southeast Asia, drones are fighting a battle — not against terrorists or insurgents, but against infectious disease. Researchers on the island of Borneo are using flying robots to map out areas affected by a type of malaria parasite (Plasmodium knowlesi), which most commonly infects macaque monkeys. In recent years, public health officials in the Malaysian state of Sabah have seen a rise in the number of cases of humans infected with this deadly parasite, which is spread, via mosquitos, from macaques to people. By mapping the communities where these cases occur, researchers hope to figure out why the parasite is spreading from monkeys to people with greater frequency, said Chris Drakeley, a professor of infection and immunity at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom, and one of the researchers involved in the project.

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