Investigating incursions of bluetongue virus using a model of long-distance Culicoides biting midge dispersal

Bluetongue virus (BTV) is an economically important pathogen of ruminants that is the aetiological agent of the haemorrhagic disease bluetongue. Bluetongue virus is biologically transmitted by Culicoides biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae), and long-range dispersal of infected vector species contributes substantially to the rapid spread of the virus. The range of semi-passive flights of infected Culicoides on prevailing winds has been inferred to reach several hundred kilometres in a single night over water bodies. In this study, an atmospheric dispersion model was parameterized to simulate Culicoides flight activity based on dedicated entomological data sets collected in the UK. Five outbreaks of BTV in Europe were used to evaluate the model for use as an early warning tool and for retrospective analyses of BTV incursions. In each case, the generated predictions were consistent with epidemiological observations confirming its reliability for use in disease outbreak management. Furthermore, the model aided policy makers to predict, contain and eradicate BTV outbreaks in the UK during 2007 and 2008.

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