The Pirbright Institute is to begin a new EU funded project to investigate the ability of European mosquitoes to carry and spread Rift Valley fever virus the cause of a potentially fatal disease affecting both livestock and humans.
Primarily funded by the EU, VMerge is a European collaborative project to improve understanding of the future threat to Europe from insect-borne livestock viruses. The Pirbright Institute will lead the Vector Ecology, Competence and Transmission (VECT) work package, which will investigate the ability of European mosquitoes to transmit Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) and measure the susceptibility of European livestock breeds to the disease.
Rift Valley fever (RVF) is primarily spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes. The main vector species varies between different regions and different species can play different roles in sustaining the transmission of RVFV. Furthermore, different populations of a species potentially have different levels of competence in their ability to spread the virus. To understand regional differences in risk, VECT involves partners from multiple parts of Europe and the Mediterranean including The Pirbright Institute (UK), Alexandria University (Egypt), CIRAD (France), CNERV (Mauritania), CReSA (Spain), CVI (Netherlands), FLI (Germany), and IZS (Italy). Each of the partners will study local populations of mosquitoes as potential vectors for RVFV to give accurate estimates of the ability of European populations of Culex pipiens and Aedes albopictus to spread the disease, as well as the effects of parasitic and viral co-infection and infectious dose.
The VECT work package is being led by Dr Anthony Wilson, a Research Fellow in the Centre for Integrative Biology at The Pirbright Institute: “Rift Valley fever is potentially one of the greatest insect-borne viral threats to the EU, but at the moment we don’t really understand whether it could spread here. This project will allow us to answer that question. Previous studies have had limited geographical focus and used different protocols, so their results could not be directly compared. Our project will effectively be conducting a single massive experiment spread over multiple sites, each using local mosquito populations. This will give us a much better overview of the RVF risk to Europe.”
Rift Valley fever was discovered in Kenya in the early 1900s and the virus which causes the disease was formally isolated in 1931. RVF affects many species of animals causing severe disease in domesticated animals including cattle, sheep, camels and goats. Outbreaks regularly occur across sub-Saharan Africa with infrequent outbreaks occurring elsewhere. Major outbreaks in Egypt in the 1970s and more recently in Kenya in 1998 have claimed the lives of hundreds of people and the disease also results in significant economic losses due to death and abortion among RVF-infected livestock.
With a grant of nearly 4 million euros, VMerge is funded under the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy (KBBE) stream of the EC Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and includes 16 partners from 14 countries, including five countries outside the EU. The VECT work package has been awarded €720,000 to carry out the research.