UK must stay vigilant for bluetongue after 2007 'lucky escape'

January 14, 2019

A set of fortunate circumstances may have prevented the UK from being harder hit by bluetongue in the past but the threat of future outbreaks is only set to increase, new research reveals.

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have used mathematical modelling to identify why the 2007 UK outbreak of bluetongue - a viral disease spread by midge bites that affects sheep and cattle - was smaller than it could have been and to predict the future impact of the disease in northern Europe as the climate warms.

A new paper published in Scientific Reports suggests that a combination of geographic location, weather conditions and existing animal movement restrictions helped limit the impact of the 2007 UK outbreak to just 135 farms.

Bluetongue is believed to have entered the UK in southeast England, an area with relatively low farm density, meaning that opportunities for infected midges to spread between farms were fewer than they might have been elsewhere. "Had the virus entered the UK in the west of England then the outbreak would probably have been much larger," says study author Dr Joanne Turner from the Institute of Infection and Global Health.

While the 2006 heatwave across Europe is thought to have played a significant role in boosting bluetongue transmission, by the time it reached the UK the following year summer temperatures were actually below average. "The UK outbreak would have been larger had the virus been introduced in a warmer year, something that is likely to occur more frequently in the future due to climate change," adds Dr Turner.

The final piece of luck was the presence of animal movement restrictions that were already in place for the 2007 UK foot and mouth disease outbreak, which the researchers say almost certainly helped to contain the bluetongue outbreak. "Had any of these three circumstances been different it could have been a much bleaker story and it's easy to imagine that in future the UK may not be so lucky," says Dr Turner.

A separate paper published in Nature Climate Change explores the risk of bluetongue transmission under future climates. The study predicts that by 2100, the disease risk will extend further north, the transmission season will last up to three months longer and outbreaks will be larger. "A 1 in 20-year outbreak at present-day temperatures becomes typical by the 2070s under the highest greenhouse gas emission scenario," warns study author Dr Anne Jones from the Department of Mathematical Sciences.

However, and importantly, the researchers say that existing control measures, such as restricting animal movements, should still be sufficient to prevent the largest outbreaks, but emphasise the need for an ongoing culture of vigilance.

"Bluetongue emerged in northern Europe in response to climate change, and has already affected tens of thousands of farms at a huge financial cost and caused the deaths of millions of animals. Our results suggest that efficient detection and control measures to limit the spread of bluetongue and similar newly emerging vector-borne diseases will be increasingly vital in a future, warmer world," concludes Dr Jones.
-end-
Both studies received funding support from the BBSRC.

Research References:

The effect of temperature, farm density and foot-and-mouth disease restrictions on the 2007 UK bluetongue outbreak, Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-35941-z

Bluetongue risk under future climates, Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/s41558-018-0376-6

University of Liverpool

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.