Washington (Agencies): Scientists may now be able to use NASA satellites hovering hundreds of kilometres above the Earth to track a "terrestrial threat" -- mice known for spreading number of harmful diseases.

Researchers at the University of Utah have observed that satellites pictures showing changes in vegetation can be very helpful in predicting the risk of mouse-borne disease outbreaks.

According to them, flourishing vegetation generally means a mouse baby boom, and that, in turn, means more rodents carrying Hantavirus -- a respiratory disease that can be fatal when spread to humans.

"The method potentially could be applied to any animal that responds to vegetation," study co-author Denise Dearing, a biologist at the University of Utah, said.

Hantavirus spreads when people inhale dust containing mouse feces or urine. According to official data, about 36 per cent of the human cases of Hantavirus in the recent years in the US were fatal.

Other diseases that spread from wild animals to humans include rat-bite fever, Lyme disease, infectious jaundice or leptospirosis and bubonic plague.

Dearing and her colleagues, who wanted not just to track outbreaks but to predict them, first trapped trapped hundreds of mice during six field expeditions over three years. Each
mouse was tagged and tested for the disease before released.

The team then pulled data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), a sensor on NASA's Terra satellite.

The MODIS images of the field area in Juab County, Utah, were analysed to measure the green light reflected by plants' leaves and the infrared light that plants absorb. More green and less red meant more vegetation.