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.
We use experimental approaches to understand the mechanisms and routes of transmission and to quantify the amount of virus produced by infected animals and how this relates to whether or not transmission occurs. This includes measuring the impact of control measures, such as vaccination, on viral shedding and transmission. We then use mathematical models to explore the implications of the data we generate for disease spread and control. In our work on airborne spread of viruses we work in close collaboration with the Met Office to investigate the risk of airborne infection and the role the atmosphere plays in transmission processes.
Our current research projects are:
Understanding the transmission of livestock viral diseases across scales (BBSRC Institute Strategic Programme Grant). 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. The project focuses on diseases that threaten the UK and which would have a major impact should they be introduced to the country, such as foot-and-mouth disease, bluetongue and African swine fever. Specific questions will 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 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?
Reducing the impact of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks through early detection and vaccination (Defra SE2816). Effective control of a foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) outbreak in a country normally free of the disease, such as the UK, requires the early identification of infected animals and deployment of control measures before overt disease and further spread occurs. Using transmission experiments we have identified a number of methods that can be used to detect infected animals before they show clinical signs: nasal and oral swabs and air and environmental sampling. These are non-invasive and quick to implement, so are practical for use in the field as means of early detection. These tests work well under experimental conditions and in this project we are validating their use in the field in an FMDV-endemic setting. Practical experience of this nature will allow the development of field-relevant protocols that could form the basis for emergency response during an outbreak in the UK. We are also further developing practical surveillance and disease management tools by characterising and quantifying virus emissions from infected animals and contaminated environments.
What are the key factors influencing the effects of vaccination against Rift Valley Fever virus in Kenya? (PhD studentship). This project focuses on the epidemiology of Rift Valley fever in Kenyan livestock. The main components of the work are: analysing the seroprevalence of RVFV across Kenya to assess the burden of disease in livestock; conducting a vaccine trial comparing the immune responses in livestock vaccinated with the commercial Smithburn vaccine and a novel viral vector vaccine ChAdOx1; and mathematical modelling to explore the potential impact of these vaccines in the field.
A major impact of our work is in advice on disease spread and control to various national and international organisations. This is best exemplified by our work on bluetongue virus (BTV) during the epidemic in northern Europe in 2006-2009. During the epidemic the group developed mathematical models to describe the potential spread and control of BTV in Great Britain, which were used to advise Defra and Scottish Government. The value of this work 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, Simon Gubbins has been a member of working groups on Schmallenberg virus, sheep and goat pox, lumpy skin disease, peste des petits ruminants (PPR), small hive beetle and bluetongue for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).