- by breakdengue

Working together to understand vectors in Europe

VectorNet infographic on the dengue vector

Images courtesy of EFSA

Vector-borne disease is on the rise worldwide. More people are traveling than ever before, global trade is increasing and climate change is altering our environment. Combined with modern agriculture methods and animal movement, these factors are increasing the risk from vector-borne diseases across the Europe Union (EU) – including the risk from dengue.

Increasing the capacity to respond to outbreaks

A collaboration between the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) aims to increase understanding of these diseases and improve the EU’s capacity to respond to new outbreaks. The project is collecting data on the distribution and abundance of vectors and pathogens that carry diseases that can affect both animals and humans, and analyzing their spread in the EU.

Built by the two agencies and their partners, the database will enable EFSA and ECDC to provide independent scientific advice on vector-borne diseases to decision-makers in the European Commission, European Parliament, and other competent authorities in EU member states.This in turn, will assist authorities in making better-informed decisions that will help prevent the spread of these diseases and reduce their impact on public health and the EU economy.


Preventing diseases from establishing and spreading

Franck Berthe, Head of EFSA’s Animal and Plant Health Unit, says that: “We are seeing certain vector-borne diseases rising in public health priorities in the EU member states. Over the past few years we have seen outbreaks of diseases outside their expected geographical range, along with diseases newly emerging. All this has created the awareness and the will to work together on the issue of vector-borne diseases.”

Known as VectorNet, the database will extend the coverage of existing databases that have previously been built by specific EFSA and ECDC research projects. One of its important features will be details on the abundance of vectors. “Abundance of vectors is key for the disease to establish or spread. This issue of abundance is very important and challenging,” added Dr. Berthe.

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First steps for VectorNet

The project started earlier this year and will run for a total of four years, with the next project meeting scheduled in autumn. A kick-off meeting in June identified the project’s five major tasks:

  • Development of the database – its structure, its access and its housekeeping.
  • Creation of a broad network – the success of this project is dependent on a very broad network of experts and institutions.
  • Collection and assessment of the quality of data – working with partners across the UK, Turkey, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and Sweden.
  • Delivery of ad hoc scientific technical advice by the two agencies.
  • Overall project management.

The meeting also looked at how the two agencies would work together: a framework contract clarifies the deliverables, timelines and activities for each phase of the project. “It is not a one shot thing but a step by step unfolding project,” elaborates Dr. Berthe. “At each step we sign specific contracts under the umbrella of the framework contract.”

Initial challenges

One of the first major challenges the project faces is the identification of disease priorities. “Many vector-borne diseases exist,” explains Dr. Berthe. “We will need to prioritize the diseases, the vector species, and regionalize across the EU – which is very diverse in terms of climate and habitat.”
Other early challenges include:

  • Establishing a comprehensive network of top experts in medical and animal entomology and in public and animal health.
  • Working out the practicalities of sampling and surveillance of vectors.
  • Building a strategy for identifying the different diseases in the different regions, each with its own unique environment that must also be fully understood.

Extending VBORNET

VectorNet is not being built from scratch; previously ECDC ran VBORNET. “Our intention with VectorNet is to broaden the basis of the VBORNET network,” Dr. Berthe reveals, “bringing together the community of medical entomology and the community of animal expertise with their knowledge on surveillance, modelling and so on.”

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The long term aims of the project are to establish a sustained and non-compartmentalized network of expertise. “We expect to have a positive long term impact: adding value to individual databases, avoiding duplication in efforts, and strengthening the collaboration,” concludes Dr. Brethe.

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