Doctors can use infrared imaging to diagnose medical conditions, prevent the spread of contagious disease, and cut down on malaria in the developing world


When we are injured, the flow of blood in our bodies increases and heats up the area surrounding an injury. By showing doctors how the heat is distributed, infrared imaging helps doctors to better diagnose and treat medical conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, back and sports injuries, and diseases such as arthritis and breast cancer. Veterinarians use the same techniques to help animals.

In the case of severe burns, infrared imaging helps doctors determine the depth of the burns, without having to touch the victim and inflict more pain.

Infrared ear thermometers, which do not come in contact with mucous membranes, measure the amount of infrared energy emitted by the eardrum. Using them eliminates the possibility of cross infection, and facilitates temperature measurements of newborns, the critically ill, and patients who are incapacitated.

Public Health

To protect the public from highly infectious diseases like SARS, airports around the world use infrared imaging devices capable of measuring differences in body temperature from a distance. People with diseases have elevated temperatures, so they literally stand out from the crowd on infrared imaging devices.

Disease Prevention

Malaria is caused by a parasite that infects the anopheles mosquito. The disease is a huge problem for people who live near tropical rain forests, thick with vegetation, because they are the breeding grounds of the anopheles. One way to prevent the spread of the disease is to locate and eliminate the infected mosquitoes’ breeding ground.

To do this, scientists use remote infrared cameras aboard satellites. The thick vegetation of the breeding grounds gives off heat, which is easily imaged by the cameras. Once disease control experts spot the breeding grounds on the images, they can monitor the growth of the anopheles mosquitoes’ food source, and design long-term campaigns to control large-scale out-breaks of malaria.

Malaria isn't the only disease spread by mosquitos - yellow fever, dengue fever, as well as many other diseases are transmitted by the insect, which is estimated to infect around 700 million people per year. The United Nations estimates that around 2 million of those infected by these diseases die each year, so the eradication of mosquito breeding grounds could save millions of lives.

Published: 02 August, 2013

Fun Fact

If you were to fall feet-first into a black hole, the difference in gravity between your feet and your head would stretch you like spaghetti, right before you were shredded into your individual atoms, starting with your feet and working up.