Risks posed by mosquito-borne disease as climate changes assessed

Scientists said mosquitoes and ticks represent a growing threat in Scotland.

Lucinda Cameron
Thursday 20 April 2023 09:29 BST
Researchers will investigate the risk of mosquito-borne disease in Scotland (Alamy/PA)
Researchers will investigate the risk of mosquito-borne disease in Scotland (Alamy/PA)

Researchers have been awarded a £1.25 million grant to investigate how climate change could increase the risk of mosquito-borne disease in Scotland.

The University of Glasgow, which is working in collaboration with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said the three-year programme will be the first of its kind to assess the risk of mosquito-borne pathogen emergence in Scotland under current and future climate change scenarios.

The programme is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as part of a £7 million research boost to fight disease borne by vectors – living organisms which include mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and lice.

Mosquitoes and ticks are said to represent a growing threat due to the fact they are both established and invasive to the UK.

The increased risk can be attributed to a number of different factors, from changes in land use to a changing climate.

The new programme will establish “vital and comprehensive” surveillance of mosquito vectors and their pathogens, extending UKHSA’s surveillance to Scotland – it is currently focused on England and Wales.

Heather Ferguson, professor of infectious disease ecology at the University of Glasgow, said: “We are thrilled to be joining forces with UKHSA and all the many partners that will make this possible, to extend surveillance activities to Scotland.

“The importance of examining mosquito vectors and their pathogens, in a world in which the climate is changing, can’t be overstated.

“We are proud to be bringing together a brilliant cross-disciplinary team, with huge expertise in mosquito and avian ecology, pathogen biology and modelling, to improve the understanding of how climate change could increase the risk of vector-borne disease in Scotland and enhance preparedness.”

The programme, funded under UKRI’s One Health Approaches To Vector-Borne Diseases initiative, will have a specific focus on risks from zoonotic pathogens that could be introduced from migratory birds.

As part of the project, researchers will conduct surveillance of mosquitoes and screen migratory birds across Scotland for the presence of emerging zoonotic pathogens, including West Nile and Usutu Virus, and results will be used to model the risk of pathogen introduction and transmission.

The university said vector-borne diseases are a major threat to global animal and human health, causing more than 700,000 deaths each year and accounting for more than 17% of all infectious diseases.

Jolyon Medlock, head of the medical entomology and zoonoses ecology team at UKHSA, said: “At a time of environmental change it is really important to investigate the current and potential risk posed by mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease.

“This programme of research will be crucial in improving our understanding and preparedness as we continue to tackle future threats to public health associated with a changing climate.”

Steven White, theoretical ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: “In this project, we will integrate cutting-edge models with novel surveillance data to predict the potential areas of risk of disease transmission in Scotland.”

Researchers from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research are also partners in the newly-funded TickTools project, led by the Animal and Plant Health Agency and involving the University of Nottingham.

The project receives £1.2 million from UKRI and Defra to improve the UK’s preparedness for the emergence of endemic and exotic tick-borne diseases.

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