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Geographical mapping of infectious diseases is an important tool for detecting and characterising outbreaks. Two common mapping methods, dot maps and incidence maps, have important shortcomings. The former does not represent population density and can compromise case privacy, and the latter relies on pre-defined administrative boundaries. We propose a method that overcomes these limitations: dot map cartograms. These create a point pattern of cases while reshaping spatial units, such that spatial area becomes proportional to population size. We compared these dot map cartograms with standard dot maps and incidence maps on four criteria, using two example datasets. Dot map cartograms were able to illustrate both incidence and absolute numbers of cases (criterion 1): they revealed potential source locations (Q fever, the Netherlands) and clusters with high incidence (pertussis, Germany). Unlike incidence maps, they were insensitive to choices regarding spatial scale (criterion 2). Dot map cartograms ensured the privacy of cases (criterion 3) by spatial distortion; however, this occurred at the expense of recognition of locations (criterion 4). We demonstrate that dot map cartograms are a valuable method for detection and visualisation of infectious disease outbreaks, which facilitates informed and appropriate actions by public health professionals, to investigate and control outbreaks.


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