Spatial scale in environmental risk mapping: A valley fever case study

Background. Valley fever is a fungal infection occurring in desert regions of the U.S. and Central and South America. Environmental risk mapping for this disease is hampered by challenges with detection, case reporting, and diagnostics as well as challenges common to spatial data handling. 
Design and Methods. Using 12,349 individual cases in Arizona from 2006 to 2009, we analyzed risk factors at both the individual and area levels. 
Results. Risk factors including elderly population, income status, soil organic carbon, and density of residential area were found to be positively associated with residence of Valley fever cases. A negative association was observed for distance to desert and pasture/ hay land cover. The association between incidence and two land cover variables (shrub and cultivated crop lands) varied depending on the spatial scale of the analysis. 
Conclusions. The consistence of age, income, population density, and proximity to natural areas supports that these are important predictors of Valley fever risk. However, the inconsistency of the land cover variables across scales highlights the importance of how scale is treated in risk mapping.

Reserach Authors
Brown, Heidi E.
Mu, Wangshu
Khan, Mohammed
Tsang, Clarisse
Liu, Jian
Tong, Daoqin