Science - June 13, 2019

Which infectious diseases caused by insects should we prepare for?

Albert Sikkema

Researchers from Erasmus MC, WUR and other institutes will investigate how the Netherlands can better prepare itself for infectious diseases transmitted by insects. Climate change is causing vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and the West Nile virus to spread.

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The Laboratory of Entomology of Wageningen University will collaborate with researchers from Nijmegen, Rotterdam and Utrecht, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) and blood banks across the Netherlands. The researchers have received 9 million euros from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and have a total of 10 million euros to spend. The Entomology group will appoint two PhD candidates.

Tick season
The research will mainly focus on mapping the influence of climate change on the spread of vector-borne diseases, explains Wageningen entomologist Willem Takken. As temperatures are rising, mosquitoes are advancing towards Northern Europe, and with that, the risk of more and new infectious diseases increases. For one, the warming will cause a longer tick season, says Takken, which increases the chance of people contracting Lyme disease.

Research lab
The researchers will investigate whether the mosquitoes carry over new viruses and parasites and whether these viruses infect mosquitoes and other hosts. WUR has a research lab with the highest safety level, in which researchers infect mosquitoes with viruses and check their spread. WUR and Erasmus University will thus assess the risks of the West Nile virus, the Zika virus and dengue fever.

The Rotterdam virologist Marion Koopmans will lead the research. ‘Fortunately, large disease outbreaks are rare. But we only start investigating from the moment they do happen, which means we’re always one step behind. Due to the changes occurring in the world, we need to take into account that infectious disease outbreaks will become more common, even in Europe. This is why we are starting this collaboration.’

Risk forecasts
In the next five years, a total of 25 PhD candidates will be investigating whether new insect-borne diseases could arise in the Netherlands. They will account for climate changes, water management, changing agricultural methods and international trade. ‘Ultimately, we would like to develop a kind of weather forecast for risk of outbreaks,’ Koopmans explains.

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  • Margaret

    Leven PhD echt waar ?
    Wil je dat eens uitleggen want krijg ook steeds meer het idee dat de WUR geen oplossingen biedt er is nog steeds geen medicijn voor de mens van het WNV terwijl het er voor paarden al is . Lijkt wel of er steeds meer ziekten ontstaan door de exoten ?

    • Willemijn

      Ja Margaret is wel vreemd dat er steeds meer mensen ziek kunnen worden van al die exoten.... zou het dat alleen door de klimaatsverandering komen of zouden er nog meer oorzaken spelen... de populatie van de mensen moet ook teruggebracht worden en ja daar kunnen ze ook insecten voor in gaan zetten ... hoe noemen ze dat ook al weer ... Biologische oorlogsvoering

  • Leven na PhD

    Wel jammer dat er met geen woord over postdocs wordt gerept: nadat de promotievergoeding binnen is laten de universiteiten je keihard vallen...