Guest blog: Multi-disciplinary interactions under the Mexican sun – reflections from the ISVEE conference

Guest blog by Tiziana Lembo and Liliana Salvador with contributions from Rowland Kao and Louise Matthews.

What is the role of scientific conference? Is it to present our research and expound upon our scientific philosophies? Is it to hear people talking about the interesting research that they are developing? Or is it to meet old friends and make new ones while also traveling to interesting places? All of these aims and more were fulfilled when a group of us left umbrellas and raincoats behind to travel to sunny and warm Mérida, Mexico, for two stimulating weeks of ISVEE 14 (International Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics) conference and workshops. The sun, heat, margaritas, “Jarana” tunes and dances, and the colourful decorations of the “Día de Muertos” created an ideal atmosphere for productive and enlightening scientific interactions.

Dia de muertos

The beginning of ISVEE 14 coincided with the “Dia de Muertos” (Day of the Dead), an ancient Mexican celebration to remember ancestors, family members and friends who have died. Traditionally, altars (“ofrendas”) are built that are laden with decorations, and favourite foods and beverages of teh departed. Above an altar dedicated to the famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo de Rivera at La Casa Azul in Mexico City, where Frida Kahlo lived and worked most of her life (photo: Tiziana Lembo)

Every three years, ISVEE provides opportunities for academics from a range of different disciplines, policy-makers and stakeholders from the private sector to come together to share their expertise in innovative research, technological developments, and policy health agendas. By blending a wide range of disciplines to address health issues of global importance, the Boyd Orr Centre has a major role to play in all these discussions. What were our contributions to the ISVEE agenda this year?


Let’s start with our research on the very topical bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), caused by Mycobacterium bovis. Rowland Kao discussed a subject that is very close to his heart – the transformative role of Whole-Genome-Sequencing (WGS) in elucidating complex transmission dynamics and disease maintenance patterns in multi-host systems. He provided examples of how the approach has been used by the Glasgow team and collaborators to expose the role of wildlife in the maintenance and transmission of bTB to cattle in different parts of the world, including Great Britain, the United States, and New Zealand. He contrasted currently available data with optimal data and listed some of the key features of an ideal dataset for WGS approaches, most importantly dense, representative sampling across all important hosts; representative samples across populations, but also the way that evolutionary analyses and model-based epidemiological approaches complement each other in interpreting these data.


Joseph Crisp and Liliana Salvador provided examples of the use of WGS to tackle bTB in New Zealand and US wildlife and cattle populations. Joe showed that the evolutionary substitution rates of M. bovis in his study populations, including cattle, possums and other wildlife are higher than previously thought and that non-cattle reservoirs were heavily involved in the maintenance of M. bovis in the sampled population. Liliana focused on bTB transmission amongst elk, deer and cattle in Michigan, US, and demonstrated that elk is the only one of these species with spatial and temporal clustering of M. bovis. In addition, for the available data, she showed that there is no evidence of transmission between elk and cattle and that cross-species transmission in Michigan is likely due to deer.


Liliana also presented her work on surveillance of bTB in Low Risk Areas (LRAs) in England. She showed that larger herds and herds that receive a high number of animals from high-risk areas are most exposed to infection. She also demonstrated that in LRAs there is no clear advantage of testing herds for bTB more frequently, since it would give no increase in the number of detected breakdowns, but the number of false positive would rise considerably. However, adopting risk-based surveillance, where herds that are at higher risk of infection are targeted, can improve the efficiency of the testing regime by increasing the number of identified cases and reducing the number of herds tested.


An entire session of the conference was dedicated to foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) with a focus on the latest research efforts in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The work of the Boyd Orr Centre on endemic FMD in Tanzania featured prominently. Findings from micro-econometric studies investigating impacts of FMD outbreaks on individual livestock-owning communities were presented by Tom Marsh, a collaborator from Washington State University. These analyses have revealed that FMD outbreaks in cattle cause reductions in milk production, traction capacity and income from livestock sales, and that households would spend more on child education if they were not affected by milk losses due to FMD. Tiziana Lembo’s talk focused on epidemiological studies investigating temporal and spatial FMD virus dynamics in East Africa to devise appropriate control strategies. She showed that four different serotypes (A, O, SAT 1 and SAT 2) are responsible for FMD outbreaks in cattle in northern Tanzania, and that there is a pattern of serotypic dominance over time across Tanzania and Kenya, which allows us to predict the timing of epidemics of specific serotypes. The implications are that livestock vaccination could target given serotypes ahead of expected outbreaks, using monovalent vaccines, which are much more readily available than polyvalent vaccines needed to cover all of the wide range of serotypes circulating in these areas.


In her talk, Louise Matthews tackled the question of whether farmers would adopt a new diagnostic test for early detection of sheep scab at the subclinical stage. The advantages of using the test are that it would allow farmers to detect and treat the disease before clinical signs, reducing production losses, and also reducing transmission to other sheep and flocks. However, the farmers would need to pay for the test and may be reluctant to do so if they believe their flock to be at low risk of infection or if their neighbour is using the test, therefore not posing a transmission risk. These advantages and disadvantages can be assessed using a game theory framework that predicts whether farmers will adopt the test and how that uptake depends on test cost. The outcome was uptake of the test when farmers are at high risk (i.e. when they had experienced clinical sheep scab in the previous year), leading in the long term to a reduction in the proportion of infected farms by around 50%.


Harriet Auty, a collaborator from Scotland’s Rural College, presented research on human African trypanosomiasis caused by Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense in Tanzania. She talked about the relative importance of different wildlife species in the reservoir community for human trypanosomiasis in multi-host populations of the Serengeti National Park. She showed that species such as bushbuck, reedbuck and impala, which are frequently infected with T. brucei, might play an important role in the reservoir community, even though they are not regular food sources for the tsetse vector. Conversely, elephant or giraffe are frequently fed on but rarely infected, indicating they may play a role in dampening transmission, and suggesting how changes in wild species composition could impact on human disease risk.


As always, ISVEE also provided a forum for conference delegates to update and strengthen their skills in a number of methods and topics through workshops run by academic colleagues from around the world. For instance, Tiziana Lembo benefited from training and discussions in data management and analyses in R organised by the Swedish National Veterinary Institute, as well as in the use of economics for animal health decision-making coordinated by the Royal Veterinary College and collaborators.

Back to the rain and grey skies now, we have many memories and knowledge to treasure from the land of revolution, music and art.


Street mural depicting Emiliano Zapata in Tepoztlan, State of Morelos, Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. Zapata remains an iconic figure in Mexico to this day (Photo: Tiziana Lembo).










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An ode to life (“Viva la Vida”) by the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo de Rivera, La Casa Azul, Mexico City (Photo: Tiziana Lembo).

The research presented and our attendance were funded by: BBSRC / DFID / Scottish Government (Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock for International Development initiative), MSD Animal Health, and Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance (Tiziana Lembo); BBSRC/DFID (Zoonoses in Emerging Livestock Systems) and EPIC (The Scottish Centre of Expertise in Animal Disease Outbreaks); Defra, NSF/BBSRC


Guest post by Sarah Cleaveland: World Rabies Day, 2013


The World Rabies Day team: (L to R) Kirstyn Brunker, Barb Mable, Will Harvey (hiding), Gran Hopcraft, Captain Sarah Cleaveland, Taya Forde and Christina Ahlstrom

An impromptu team from the Boyd Orr Centre gathered in Aberfoyle to take part in the Trossachs 10 km run to mark World Rabies Day on 28th September.  World Rabies Day is a UN day that was initiated in 2007 by the Global Alliance for Rabies Control with the aim of raising awareness about the impact of rabies around the world, and to catalyse programmes to control and eliminate this deadly but preventable disease (www.rabiesalliance.org).  Scientists from the Boyd Orr Centre have led research that provides convincing evidence that eliminating canine rabies is a feasible objective that can save many thousands of lives, at highly cost-effective levels of investment.  The Boyd Orr rabies team is also closely involved in international partnerships and networks that are working to initiate and coordinate national and regional rabies elimination programmes in Africa and Asia.

Events relating to World Rabies Day are now held in more than 100 countries around the world and range from dog vaccination campaigns, educational events, fund-raising activities, and international webinars.  While the global rabies problem is unlikely to be high among the day-to-day concerns of many in the UK – our rabies T-shirts were met with rather bemused enquiries from the polite residents of Aberfoyle – there are many reasons why we also have a vested interest in controlling dog rabies overseas.  First, many of us travel to countries where dog rabies is still endemic (most countries in Asia and Africa), and encounters with dogs are not uncommon.  In one study of backpackers travelling to southeast Asia, ~4% experienced an exposure (lick or bite of an unknown dog) that could result in rabies, and few people who were exposed were able to receive the course of vaccination and immunoglobulin as promptly as needed. Second, with the recent changes in quarantine regulations for pets from non-EU countries, increasing numbers of dogs are being brought into the UK from countries where canine rabies is widespread.  Dogs in these countries that are kept as pets, with a history of vaccination, are unlikely to pose a risk in terms of introducing rabies into the UK.  But there are concerns about street dogs and rescue dogs that are increasingly being adopted by travellers for re-homing in the UK.  The history of these dogs is likely to be more uncertain than that of pet dogs, and, even when the required vaccination and blood testing schedules are met, there remains a risk that a proportion of dogs could be incubating rabies when entering the UK.  While the risk is very small, the consequences of this could be devastating and extremely costly.

So, while dog rabies may have seemed like a distant problem to those of us running through the beautiful environs of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in the Trossachs, there are good reasons for us all to care about rabies and to invest in a world that is free of dog rabies – not only to prevent the thousands of terrifying and needless deaths that occur every year among the most disadvantaged people in the world, but also protect us, as travellers, and to reduce the risk of rabies entering the UK.

Some further references

Hampson, K., Dushoff, J., Cleaveland, S., Haydon, D.T., Kaare, M., Packer, C., and Dobson, A.  (2009).Transmission dynamics and prospects for the elimination of canine rabies. PLoS Biology. 7: (3). e53 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.100005.3.

Hampson K., Dobson A., Kaare, M., Dushoff J., Magoto M., Sindoya E. and Cleaveland S. (2008) Rabies exposures, post-exposure prophylaxis and deaths in a region of endemic canine rabies: a contact-tracing study. PLoS Neglected Diseases, 2(11): e339. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000339

Lembo T., Hampson K., Kaare M., Ernest E., Knobel D., Kazwala R., Haydon D. and Cleaveland S. (2010) The feasibility of eliminating canine rabies in Africa: dispelling doubts with data. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 4: e626.

Piyaphanee W. et al. (2010)  Rabies exposure risk among foreign backpackers in Southeast Asia. Am. J. Trop. Med. Hyg, 82: 1168–1171.

Shaw M. et al. (2009) Rabies Postexposure Management of Travelers Presenting to Travel Health Clinics in Auckland and Hamilton, New Zealand.  Journal of Travel Medicine, 16: 13–17

Guest Post from Dan Haydon: hosting guests from Tanzania National Parks and the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute

Julius Keyyu Matthew Maziku

Julius Keyyu and Matthew Maziku

For the last few days we have been hosting Alain Kijazi and Simon Mduma, respectively the Directors-General of Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) and the Tananzian Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI).   Forty percent of Tanzania is protected in some form or other, and almost 6% of the countries land area is fully protected in National Parks.  Tanzania contains some of the planets most spectacular ecosystems and these organizations are world leaders in biodiversity conservation. Alain and Simon addressed the University on the subjects of Tanzanian conservation and development, and the role of research in devising effective conservation policy.  They were joined by Julius Keyyu, the Director of Research at TAWIRI, and Markus Borner, formerly the African based projects Director for Frankfurt Zoological Society (who has now joined Glasgow as an honourary professor), and we held discussions with our head of college and the Principal about how researchers at the University of Glasgow might be able to help these organisations address knowledge gaps.  While there are some pressing questions regarding the threats of infectious disease, the genetic management of largely closed populations, and some thorny questions about the design of pragmatic but statistically rigorous monitoring programs, what struck me was the interdisciplinary nature of the most important challenges: human wildlife conflicts at the edges of parks, the control of poaching, the development of eco-tourism, and perhaps most starkly the management of water resources, and environmental change more generally.  To properly address these questions we will need to combine the expertize of microeconomists, social scientists, geographers and hydrologists as well as biologists and epidemiologists.  These experts all agreed that while tourism is big business in Tanzania, generating over 7% of GDP, conservation is unlikely to do much to help impoverished communities living in and around protected areas.  Rather depressingly, there was little confidence that the interests of conservation would be served through poverty reduction.  Apparently experience suggests that better-off communities are even more environmentally destructive than poorer ones.  However, it is not a well-researched area, and my feeling was that we just have to think harder and more creatively to find win-win solutions.

Alain Kijazi

Alain Kijazi

Another retrospectively all too obvious point is the disconnect between what better resourced ‘northern’ funding agencies think they want to fund, and the national priorities of countries like Tanzania.  All too often I feel that the cart is put before the horse, with ‘northern’ research agenda’s driven through relatively traditional intra-disciplinarily endogenously promulgated thinking, rather than the identification of research that could provide an evidence-base for policies that would actually make a difference somewhere.

Simon Mduma

Simon Mduma

Where do we find researchers that are imbued with a real understanding of the developing country priorities, and that have these mixtures of skills, and the necessary outlook to conduct such interdisciplinary research?  With great difficulty I think.  Young scientists from these developing countries are surely the best bet – having spent their lives so much closer to these issues.  We discussed how we could fund and manage a joint masters and doctoral program with the combined inputs of Tanzanian institutions and ‘global partners’ both in the UK and the US (some initiatives are already under way with Penn State University and the Paul Allen School of Global Animal Health at Washington State University).  The newly founded Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha provides an excellent and academically broad base for such a program.  Now we need to go and find the funding.