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Bluetongue To Increase With Climate Change

14 September 2011

EUROPE - Researchers from the University of Liverpool are predicting that rising temperatures in Northern Europe will mean an increase in bluetongue – a viral disease that affects cattle and sheep.

Between 1998 and 2010 more than 80,000 outbreaks of bluetongue in Europe were reported to the World Animal Health Organisation, and millions of animals died as a result of the disease. Bluetongue was previously restricted to Africa and Asia. Its emergence in Europe is thought to be linked to increased temperatures, which allow the insects that carry the virus to spread to new regions and transmit the virus more effectively.

Liverpool researchers produced a mathematical model that explains how the risk of an outbreak of bluetongue virus in Europe changes under different climate conditions.

The team examined the effect of past climate on the risk of the virus over the past 50 years to understand the specific triggers for disease outbreak over time and throughout geographical regions. This model was then driven forwards in time, using predictive climate models, to the year 2050 to show how the disease may react to future climate change.    Using these projections, researchers found that in northern Europe there could be a 17 per cent increase in incidence of the bluetongue virus, compared with seven per cent in southern regions, where it is already much warmer.

"Previous study suggests that climate change will alter global disease distribution, and although we have significant knowledge of the climate triggers for particular diseases, more research is needed to identify what we think might really happen in the future," said Matthew Baylis from Liverpool University.

"We have been able to show that the past emergence of a disease can be explained, in both space and time, by changes to recent climate. These results reinforce the belief that future climate change will threaten our health and well-being by causing infection to spread. Looking forward, this could help inform decision-making processes on preparing for disease outbreaks and reduce the huge economic impact that farm-animal diseases can have on communities."

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