Housing Downturn, Mosquitoes, Interdisciplinarity

(OK, let’s not talk about that other thing today…) Count the West Nile virus among the few beneficiaries of the downturn in the housing market. According to a recent article in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases (“Delinquent Mortgages, Neglected Swimming Pools, and West Nile Virus, California”, by William K. Reisen, Richard M. Takahashi, Brian D. Carroll and Rob Quiring), the burst of the housing bubble is behind the recent upsurge in the numbers of of virus-carrying mosquitoes detected in California: the pools and jacuzzies of foreclosed houses are providing the perfect breeding ground for the Culex tarsalis mosquito, the vector-of-choice of the virus. In Barksdale, near Los Angeles, the 300% increase in the number of delinquent mortgages correlates nicely with a 276% increase in the number of human West Nile virus cases detected in 2007. (Thanks to AK for this amazing piece of news)

The entomologists responsible for the study draw an important conclusion: the growing population of the mosquito-borne virus is linked to the rise in the number of adjustable rate mortgages. Here one begins to feel a certain interdisciplinary vertigo: a symbiotic relationship between Alan Greenspan and the West Nile virus? Suspiciously, the first case of WNV in the United States was reported in New York in 1999, soon after the end of the dot.com bubble…

It must be difficult enough to incorporate entomological predictions in the financial models that shape monetary policy or banking behavior, but what about the poor entomologists now forced to calculate the policy of the Federal Reserve, the rate of florecosures and the water behavior of suburbanites in their studies of insect behavior?


  1. flushsiphon

    To enhance understanding of emergent Californian disease epidemiology, new techniques in GIS technology might also come in handy: low spatial and high temporal resolution meterological satellite imagery could be used to relate the speed/density of algae formation to the attractiveness of the pool cleaner.

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