- bluetongue, which mainly affects sheep but has also been seen in cattle since last summer; it is currently affecting Europe, and the whole of the intertropical zone, from the United States to Australia and South Africa;
- African horse sickness, which affects horses, currently in Subsaharan Africa; it is now threatening southern Europe;
- epizootic haemorrhagic disease (EHD), which affects deer but can infect cattle, currently in the United States and South Africa; it has just reached Israel and the Maghreb.
As Guillaume Gerbier, a researcher with the CIRAD Epidemiology and Ecology of Animal Diseases Internal Research Unit and coordinator of the project, points out: "One of these diseases has already hit Europe and the other two are a risk for Europe. We are therefore keen to pool the experiences of research teams in the 17 participating countries and harmonize the control methods used against these diseases". To this end, regular meetings are due to be organized, the first of which has just been held in Montpellier.
Several research topics are already under study by the 21 partner organizations in the project (in Europe, around the Mediterranean and in South Africa, the country that discovered bluetongue at the start of the 1900s).
Surveillance of disease circulation (serological and virological analyses) is a priority. This is followed by surveillance of the vector insects (trapping and identification, since not all the vectors are known, although researchers say there are "suspect" European species). The next step will be to analyse the genome of the virus, sequence it and build groups of virus families so as to determine their origin. In fact, there are 24 bluetongue virus serotypes, and the disease serves as a model in studies of emerging diseases. "Infection by one serotype does not protect against the other 23," says Guillaume Gerbier, "and to date, we have only recorded eight serotypes around the Mediterranean since the bluetongue epidemic of 1999".
CIRAD and its French partners* are currently working closely to monitor the emergence of new serotypes around the Mediterranean and draw up bluetongue surveillance protocols. Researchers are concerned that the disease may recur in the spring. The aim in the medium term is also to set up a joint observatory.
** AFSSA (Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des aliments), Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg and EID (Entente interdépartementale de démoustication).
Helen Burford | alfa
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