Climate change and globalization have increased the opportunity for the spreading of many infectious diseases that were traditionally present only in tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world. Interestingly, most of the emerging/ re-emerging infections are of viral origin and transmitted by an insect vector. At the CVR we are building a research programme on the biology of arboviruses and the pathogenesis of diseases caused by these agents.
Bluetongue is one of the major infectious diseases of livestock. The disease is caused by an arbovirus (bluetongue virus, BTV) transmitted from infected to uninfected hosts by biting midges. In the last decade, repeated BTV incursions have occurred throughout Europe. The recent outbreak of BTV-8 in central and northern Europe is the largest recorded outbreak in the history of bluetongue, leading to the death of >2 million animals and causing extensive damage to the European economy.
One of the major aims of the arbovirus research programme at the CVR is to understand the determinants of BTV virulence and to determine the main factors that control the clinical outcome of BTV infection. Bluetongue viruses infect ruminants, but the clinical manifestations of infection vary considerably between hosts, ranging from completely asymptomatic to fatal. In the last few years, novel apparently avirulent serotypes, and vaccine strains have been isolated in the field and are contributing to the BTV "landscape". At the moment, regulatory agencies treat any BTV incursion in the UK or the EU in essentially in the same way. By better understanding the determinants of BTV virulence we may be able to design control strategies that "fit" the risks posed by a specific incursion and the circumstances surrounding it.
Work on this programme is conducted in collaboration with the Institute for Animal Health, the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale degli Abruzzi e Molise and Merial.