Annual Meeting: Highlights from Turkey

Almost 150 delegates attended EDENext’s first Annual Meeting held in the Turkish city of Izmir. Over the course of a week, which included a day dedicated to presentations from consortium PhD and post-doc students, delegates were brought up to date with the work conducted in the project’s first year and given an insight into the research to be conducted in coming years.

Renaud Lancelot 2

Opening the meeting, hosted by Turkey’s Ege University, EDENext coordinator Renaud Lancelot, from CIRAD in France (pictured right), thanked the consortium partners for the successful start of the project, with more than 30 papers released during the first year, and the strong efforts being made in capacity building and training, with original research questions, as revealed by the richness and quality of presentations given during the PhD/post-doc meeting. He also outlined some of the key challenges over the coming years. These include the introduction and emergence of new infections such as Schmallenberg virus, the Culicoides-borne disease affecting sheep, goats and cattle in Europe. Key questions still need answering, said Renaud, such as where the disease has come from, how it has been introduced and, indeed, what will happen when summer returns accompanied by Culicoides midges.

The question of where Schmallenberg could spread was addressed by René Bodker, of the Technical University of Denmark. “We are pretty sure the northern limit will be somewhere in Scandinavia,” he said. “We have the vectors in northern Europe and the temperatures are high enough.”   

Midges were not studied under the earlier EDEN project  and research into this vector presents particular challenges, revealed Simon Carpenter of the UK’s Institute for Animal Health. Not only are midges "incredibly abundant" (Simon reported that up to one million are caught in light traps per night in South Africa), but are famous for their role in spreading viruses.

The emergence of West Nile virus (WNV) in Greece and Central Europe also poses important questions, the meeting was told, in particular the reasons for the emergence and a better understanding of what may happen in the future. Paul Reiter, from France’s Institut Pasteur, underlined the incredible movement of WNV in the United States of America, where the virus travelled west from New York to the Rocky Mountains in the space of just five years. Non-mosquito transmission of WNV is, he suggested, a neglected issue which is being addressed by research activities implemented within the EDENext project. Results will be available in the near future.

EDENext has the ability to tackle these pressing issues because of its flexible structure, said European Commission scientific officer Christian Desaintes. It is, he said, by far the largest of the 7th Framework Programme projects of its kind, bringing together 46 partners.

EDENext comprises five vector-based research groups and each took the opportunity to present highlights of the work completed in respect of both improving our understanding of disease emergence and spread, and in controlling and preventing diseases.

For the mosquito-borne diseases (MBD)  group, researchers have been investigating the multiple lineages of WNV in Europe and the future of the chikungunya virus in Europe. In particular, researchers are very keen to know how far north chikungunya may spread in Europe. To gain insight into this, researchers in Albania have been trapping one of the main vectors of the virus, the invasive mosquito species Aedes albopictus, over the course of a long season. Paul Reiter reported the findings of the Albanian team, who discovered these mosquitoes at heights beyond 600 metres and even up to 1,100m. Using altitude as a proxy for latitude will help researchers establish how far north populations of this mosquito species and associated pathogens may be found.

Alessandra della Torre, of the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’, presented some examples of investigations into intervention and control work for mosquitoes. These include an interesting study being conducted into the extent to which ovipositing Aedes albopictus females can transfer juvenile hormone analogues (JHA) from contaminated surfaces to oviposition sites and kill the larvae developing there. “The power of the low-tech solution is that it can reach sites that cannot be reached by other means,” she said. A longer interview with Alessandra will shortly be available on this website. This work was also the subject of an award-winning poster  from the University of Rome’s Beniamino Caputo.

Martin Groschup

Of particular concern to the tick-borne disease group  is the emergence and spread of Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV), with cases affecting humans reported in Albania, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Greece and, most importantly, Turkey. Martin Groschup (pictured left), of the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (Germany) explained that several EDENext teams from Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Turkey, and France are examining the association between CCHFV occurrence and the availability of potential vectors. They are seeking to identify potential high-risk areas for CCHFV according to vector ecology, occurrence and abundance, and have identified the importance of data on the geographical distribution of relevant tick species, in particular Hyalomma species, which at present is inconsistent. Furthermore, a serological diagnostic test is being developed by EDENext teams and will make it possible to assess the geographic distribution of CCHF infection in wildlife and domestic livestock in south-eastern Europe.

Another part of the tick-borne disease group is focused on emerging Ixodes ricinus transmitted pathogens and in particular on a pre-assessment of the public health risk they pose. These pathogens include A. phagocytophilum, Rickettsia spp., Babesia EU 1 and B. microti, Bartonella spp., Neoehrlichia mikurensis, Borrelia spp., TBEv and Francisella sp. For the pre-assessment of the public health risk, vector behaviour and favourable hosts need to be investigated, reported Annapaola Rizzoli, of Italy’s Fondazione Edmund Mach. The approach being taken involves the identification of three major habitats (urban, natural and silvopastoral), monitoring the density of infected vectors, screening of vertebrate hosts (both domestic and wildlife), the involvement of public health practioners such as vets and doctors and, finally, the estimation of parameters and the development of risk models.  

Annapaola illustrated the complexity of the transmission cycles involved in tick-borne diseases with the example of the sylvatic cycle in natural habitats, where climate and the availability of food in the forest are closely linked with the joint dynamics of large mammals, such as deer, rodents and ticks, and the transmission of pathogens. A better understanding of this complexity, and the role of deer and rodents, is being achieved through cooperation with the rodent and insectivore group (see below) with the aim of producing an early warning system for Europe.   

Michaela Vlkova 2

It has been a busy year for the EDENext group working on Phlebotomus sand fly species , with the preparation of 12 papers. There has been a focus on the role sand fly saliva plays in blood feeding and its role in the transmission of Leishmania. You can read more about this in EDENext publications , where the papers available include 'Canine Antibody Response to Phlebotomus perniciosus Bites Negatively Correlates with the Risk of Leishmania infantum Transmission'. The lead author of this paper, Michaela Vlkova (pictured right) of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, was narrowly voted the winner of the best presentation  from PhD and post-Doc students.

It has been a similarly productive year for the rodent and insectivore group , with nine publications written and another 10 almost completed. The emphasis, said Herwig Leirs, from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, is not merely to describe the diseases under investigation but to understand why they are or are not persistent.

Researchers have so far identified three new hantaviruses and there is a considerable focus on Puumala hantavirus (PUUV) and its interaction with bank voles. An example of the latter was presented during the PhD session , where Liina Voutilainen, from the Finish Forest Research Institute, presented the impact of intensive forest management on PUUV hantavirus dynamics. The wealth of bio-ecological data accumulated by EDENext teams on rodents and insectivores, and their infection by hantaviruses and other pathogens, as well as the quantity and accuracy of public health data for northern and western Europe, provide a unique opportunity to develop population dynamics and transmission models which are important for human disease surveillance and early warning systems. This will make it possible to link ecological and epidemiological research with public health.

Indeed, EDENext is determined that its research be of wider value in protecting public health. To this end, a White Paper examining public health as a holistic, inter-disciplinary and multi-level approach designed to prevent health problems rather than heal them is being produced, as an initiative of the EDENext public health team, with strong interactions with other project teams. Linked with work being conducted on the management of risk, and aided by the project’s modelling team, a workshop on public health is to be held later this year with the aim of each vector group presenting the key public health messages of its work at the 2013 Annual Meeting. 

For more information on EDENext's first Annual Meeting:

Published: 16/04/2012

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