Friday, September 4, 2015

The Five Essential Properties of Disease Maps

Five Essential Properties of Disease Maps

      Geographic information systems, or GIS, are a computer system and tool employed around the world. The system components work together to create, analyze, and share geographic information in order to answer fundamental geological questions and make decisions in regards to land and space ( The GIS data represents real world features and objects that can be manipulated to the user’s specific desires.

      GIS can be applied in a variety of useful ways, from mapping rural farm areas and the distance to the nearest farmer’s market, to finding the simplest route to build a new road in a crowded city. Beyer et al (2012) make the convincing case that GIS can also be used in the provision of public health and safety by charting out diseases. These disease maps have five important properties, Beyer et al (2012) argue, that are crucial for the disease maps to be beneficial to the public and for the maintenance of trying to control the outbreak. They further explain that there are many important components to any map that many people put emphasis on, like the best units to display and easy to interpret color schemes. Nevertheless, the five properties Beyer et al (2012) go into detail on are properties they claim are much more critical to the success of applying the map to an actual disease outbreak and having control and taking preventative measures that are more successful.
     These five critical properties include: controlling the population basis of spatial support for estimating rates, displaying rates continuously through space, providing the greatest geographical detail across the whole map, considering directly and indirectly age-sex-adjusted rates, and visualizing rates within a relevant place context (Beyer et al, 2012).
     In laymen’s terms, the map should not only show the relevant area of focus, but also display the pertinent data as far as population, sex, age, etc. In addition, the map ought to include the data of focus uninterruptedly across the map space and include the appropriate labeling characteristics for best understanding by the intended audience. Beyer et al (2012) go into further clarification of each of these five properties in their article, and explain in detail why they are imperative to incorporate in a chart or map. Moreover, Beyer et al (2012) illuminate other articles that have incorporated this data, give several examples of appropriate usage of the five main elements, and display figures of how diverse tactics can be applied to a map.

      These four panels in Figure 2 above (Beyer et al, 2012) illustrate the varied way the same environment can be represented.

     Panel one spotlights implementing OpenStreetMap data to concentrate on a broad area and minimal boundary lines. Panel 2 is mainly concerned with illuminating place context features for an amplified visualization of the diseases’ location within a populated area. These features exhibited are elements like major roads, county boundaries, and place names (Beyer et al, 2012). Panel 3 is more concerned with utilizing the disease map on another application available for the general public, such as Google Earth. Lastly, panel 4 shows the ability to zoom in on the Google Earth map, and how individual locales can be accentuated and additional specific town names can be viewed (Beyer et al, 2012).

     Beyer et al (2012) encourage future research in this area, as mapping and GIS programs can always be improved with more precise information and increased technology. Beyer et al (2012) also state that it is very important to first consider the actual purpose of the map before the actual mapping methodology is decided, and to research the data and previous studies that could be beneficial to the map creation and GIS process. However, one must be careful to note that in every diverse mapping approach, there are distinct benefits and shortcomings (Beyer et al, 2012).
    Finally, the Beyer et al (2012) urge that their article can be practically applied to further assist in disease mapping, and to be advantageous in the disease prevention and control sector, and even hopefully originate dialogue about this imperative matter.


Beyer, K. M., Tiwari, C., & Rushton, G. (2012). Five essential properties of disease maps. Annals of the Association of American Geographers102(5), 1067-1075.

I have acted with honesty and integrity in producing this work and am unaware of anyone who has not.
-Rachel Ehler


  1. While reading your paper I found that did a good job explaining what GIS is to the common person. However, I thought that the overall article, while consisting of simplified information, was still a bit complex for a "newspaper science section."

  2. This seems like this kind of technology would be useful in places like India or Africa. Is it used for mapping diseases in these areas? And if so do they run into inconsistencies in data reporting across countries?

    1. I am fairly sure they use this technology worldwide, and they might use WHO data to avoid inconsistencies.