In the Transmission Biology group, we study the transmission of viral diseases of livestock using a combination of transmission experiments, field studies and mathematical modelling. We investigate the mechanisms and routes of transmission and develop tools and procedures to aid in surveillance, operational support and analysis of outbreaks.
The aim of the group is to understand the transmission of viral diseases of livestock across scales from individuals to continents. Understanding transmission is essential for improving disease control and surveillance.
Our current research projects are:
Understanding the transmission of livestock viral diseases across scales. In this project we are developing mathematical models to link data from laboratory experiments and field studies to help understand transmission of viral diseases of livestock across scales. Specific questions include: how do the dynamics of the virus within an animal influence its ability to transmit to other animals? How can we predict the spread and control of disease when data are limited, for example, when a disease has recently emerged or in developing countries? How can we integrate laboratory studies and field work to better predict the risk of a disease spreading?
Understanding environmental and airborne transmission to reduce the impact of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks. We are investigating the use of environmental sampling as a means of detecting foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) on farms and at livestock markets. These methods have potential advantages over clinical inspections as they are non-invasive and do not require specialist training to collect. We have used the methods in Nepal, Cameroon and Nigeria, where FMD is endemic, to determine how to best collect, process and test the samples. We use information from these studies to identify how environmental sampling could be applied during an epidemic in the UK. We are also investigating the role of airborne transmission in the spread of FMDV. First, we are measuring aerosols on farms to characterise the particle size of aerosolised dust throughout the day from farms. Second, we are carrying out experiments to determine how long FMDV can survive in aerosols.
Assessing the efficacy of a novel CCHF vaccine as a method to control the reservoir of infection. We are using a series of observational and intervention studies to identify risk factors and hot spot areas for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever in Bulgaria and to assess the efficacy of a novel vaccine against this disease. The project was conducted in collaboration with Public Health England and the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency.
Understanding disease impacts. We have conducted a series of field studies in collaboration with the Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory and Large DNA Viruses group in Pirbright, the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) in Nigeria and the State Central Veterinary Laboratories (SCVL) in Mongolia to understand the socioeconomic impact of transboundary diseases. Specifically, to quantify the economic impact of lumpy skin disease, sheep and goat pox and foot-and-mouth disease and their control measures, as well as to get a better understanding of the epidemiology of sheep and goat pox in endemic settings.
Transmission of Culicoides-borne diseases. We run the UK Culicoides Reference Laboratory which carries out national surveillance of Culicoides biting midges and maintains taxonomic expertise. We have a long-standing collaboration with the Zoological Society of London where we investigate the ecological preferences of Culicoides within the zoo environment, to better understand the risk of vector-borne livestock diseases to zoological collections. We also have projects in Ghana, in collaboration with the University of Cape Coast, to explore novel host-pathogen transmission cycles of human leishmaniasis. Recently, we have conducted entomological surveys in the UK to determine the extent of Culicoides biting on donkeys and their potential role in the transmission of African horse sickness.
A major impact of our work is in advice on disease spread and control to various national and international organisations. This is exemplified by our work on bluetongue virus (BTV) during the epidemic in northern Europe in 2006-2009, which was recognised by the award of the BBSRC Social Innovator of the Year 2013, jointly with Carrie Batten, Simon Carpenter, Simon Gubbins and Peter Mertens.
More recently, Georgina Limon contributed to DISCONTOOLS analysis for sheep and goat pox. Marion England and Simon Gubbins regularly advise Defra on the risk of bluetongue virus entering the UK via wind-borne incursion of infected midges. Simon Gubbins has also been a member of working groups on lumpy skin disease, Rift Valley fever and EU animal health law for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).