Some places are more likely to have disease outbreaks than others. Think of international airports and large livestock farms. Researchers of Wageningen University & Research are working on methods to efficiently detect such hotspots and help to prevent major disease outbreaks such as COVID-19 in the future.
“To prevent major disease outbreaks, you need to be able to detect a new bacterium or virus quickly. We are looking for efficient and affordable ways to monitor hotspots,” says ecologist Ralph Buij.
Buij gives the example of mosquitoes on pig farms. These mosquitoes do not only bite the pigs in the barn, but also wild animals that live in the countryside around the farm. “We catch the mosquitoes using lures and sequence all the DNA in the blood they have fed on. This allows us to identify which animals were bitten by the mosquitoes and which pathogens these animals carried in their blood. The information can tell us a lot about the spread of diseases. We think we have found an affordable way to catch large numbers of mosquitoes, which is what makes this method so interesting.”
Samples from the local environment
The researchers take samples from the local environment at the same time. For example, they filter particles from the air or from sewage and surface water in cities or in the vicinity of large livestock farms. They analyse these filter samples in the laboratory by sequencing them. The researchers are currently studying the best way to do this. “Health authorities will be able to use our method to monitor hotspots more effectively and efficiently, and so our models may help to prevent major disease outbreaks in the future.”