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Open Access Research article

Bayesian structured additive regression modeling of epidemic data: application to cholera

Frank B Osei1*, Alfred A Duker2 and Alfred Stein3

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Public Health and Allied Sciences, Catholic University College of Ghana, Sunyani/Fiapre, Ghana

2 Department of Geomatic Engineering, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana

3 Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation-ITC, Twente University, Enschede, Netherlands

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2012, 12:118  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-118

Published: 6 August 2012



A significant interest in spatial epidemiology lies in identifying associated risk factors which enhances the risk of infection. Most studies, however, make no, or limited use of the spatial structure of the data, as well as possible nonlinear effects of the risk factors.


We develop a Bayesian Structured Additive Regression model for cholera epidemic data. Model estimation and inference is based on fully Bayesian approach via Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) simulations. The model is applied to cholera epidemic data in the Kumasi Metropolis, Ghana. Proximity to refuse dumps, density of refuse dumps, and proximity to potential cholera reservoirs were modeled as continuous functions; presence of slum settlers and population density were modeled as fixed effects, whereas spatial references to the communities were modeled as structured and unstructured spatial effects.


We observe that the risk of cholera is associated with slum settlements and high population density. The risk of cholera is equal and lower for communities with fewer refuse dumps, but variable and higher for communities with more refuse dumps. The risk is also lower for communities distant from refuse dumps and potential cholera reservoirs. The results also indicate distinct spatial variation in the risk of cholera infection.


The study highlights the usefulness of Bayesian semi-parametric regression model analyzing public health data. These findings could serve as novel information to help health planners and policy makers in making effective decisions to control or prevent cholera epidemics.

Bayesian; Cholera; Cholera reservoir; Refuse dumps; Slums