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10 million for research into disease transmission by mosquitoes

How can the Netherlands be better prepared for infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded almost 9 million euros for this research. Maarten Schrama from the Institute of Environmental Sciences CML coordinates the input of Leiden University within the project.

In total, seven public organisations are working together on the unique multidisciplinary project, which with their contributions will amount to 10 million euros. Erasmus University Rotterdam is the lead applicant.

Infectious diseases in the Netherlands

Outbreaks of (new) infectious diseases in humans and animals are becoming more prevalent worldwide. That is due to factors such as population growth, international trade, international travel and climate change. In the Netherlands, a relatively large number of people, livestock and animals live near each other. In combination with our water-rich landscape and busy international trade and travel, it makes us vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Professor Marion Koopmans, virologist at Erasmus MC and one of the Scientific Directors of the Netherlands Centre for One Health: ‘Large disease outbreaks are thankfully quite rare. However, if such an outbreak occurs, we only investigate it from that moment onwards, which means we are always chasing after the facts. We need to be ready for more frequent infectious disease outbreaks, also in Europe. By working together, we will be better prepared for the future.’

Vector-borne diseases

The team will mainly focus on vector-borne diseases: infectious diseases transmitted by insects such as mosquitoes. As a result of climate change, exotic mosquito species are becoming more common in the Netherlands. But under the right conditions, mosquito species native to the Netherlands can transmit (tropical) viruses too. The recent outbreak of the usutu virus (the 'blackbird disease') among birds demonstrates the importance of early preparedness for such diseases. That applies not only to the Netherlands but also the Dutch Caribbean and the rest of Europe.

Leiden University master student Louie Krol taking water samples for eDNA research (photo: Maarten Schrama).

Leiden expertise

Leiden researchers will contribute their expertise in the field of environmental DNA, shortened: eDNA. This is a method to find out what species are where. 'In studies in South Africa and the Caribbean, we already gained a lot of experience with this. We find disease-spreading mosquitoes in some unexpected places,' said Schrama. 'It is a variable method to prevent all mosquitoes from showing, both from disease-causing and innocent species.' Many of the experiments will take place in the Living Lab. 'Here we can simulate various different future scenarios in a very realistic way, which gives us the opportunity to make well-founded predictions.'

Four themes

Over the next five years, 25 PhD researchers, from whom 3 at Leiden University, will focus on four themes that influence the development of outbreaks:

  1. changes in the climate,
  2. changes in water management,
  3. changes in agricultural methods, and
  4. changes concerning international travel and import risks.

They will investigate the impact of changes in the climate, water management, agricultural methods and import risks on the probability of a vector-borne virus outbreak in the Netherlands. Through collaboration with researchers from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), and the blood banks in the Netherlands and the Dutch Caribbean, the outcomes will be translated into measures to ensure we are better prepared for a possible disease outbreak. ‘Ultimately we want to develop a sort of “weather forecast” for the risk of outbreaks’, says Marion Koopmans.

Source: Erasmus University Rotterdam
More information: www.ncoh.nl/research

Citizen science

During the research, the team will collaborate with various scientific bodies and make use of research results from other projects. These will include citizen science projects: initiatives in which citizens and high school pupils are involved. For example, they will provide research data about birds, mosquitoes and water or use travel apps such as the Municipal Health Services’ 'GGD reist mee' and the 'ZIeKA-monitor'.

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