Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a common medical problem in Hungary and throughout much of Europe and Asia. This paper develops a geographic model that helps to predict the distribution of human tick-borne encephalitis cases in Hungary. The model is tested on a dataset of serologically confirmed TBE cases mapped by patients' residences. Case densities (incidence rates) are compared to predicted distributions of TBE derived from digital land-cover data. Maps are analyzed at the county level and on a smaller spatial scale. The analyses identified three major factors that shape the geographic distribution of human TBE cases in Hungary. The most important component is the distribution of forest habitat. TBE incidence correlates positively with the amount of forested habitat in each county. On a finer scale, the amount of forests within a 2500-meter radius of each town and village correlated significantly with TBE incidence rate. Based on these data, about 30% of the variation in TBE incidence is accounted for by the specific distribution of forest habitats in Hungary. Besides the distribution of forests, differences in human land-use practices among regions also affect the distribution of TBE cases. Additionally, because of the low transmission rate of the virus to humans, the perceived distribution of TBE cases is affected by random stochastic events. As a consequence of stochastic variation, meaningful patterns in the distribution of TBE cases can be only recognized when data are analyzed over broader temporal and spatial scales.
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