Predicting temperature-dependent transmission suitability of bluetongue virus in livestock

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The transmission of vector-borne diseases is governed by complex factors including pathogen characteristics, vector–host interactions, and environmental conditions. Temperature is a major driver for many vector-borne diseases including Bluetongue viral (BTV) disease, a midge-borne febrile disease of ruminants, notably livestock, whose etiology ranges from mild or asymptomatic to rapidly fatal, thus threatening animal agriculture and the economy of affected countries. Using modeling tools, we seek to predict where the transmission can occur based on suitable temperatures for BTV. We fit thermal performance curves to temperature-sensitive midge life-history traits, using a Bayesian approach. We incorporate these curves into S(T), a transmission suitability metric derived from the disease’s basic reproductive number, 𝑅0. This suitability metric encompasses all components that are known to be temperature-dependent. We use trait responses for two species of key midge vectors, Culicoides sonorensis and Culicoides variipennis present in North America. Our results show that outbreaks of BTV are more likely between 15∘ C and 34∘ C, with predicted peak transmission risk at 26 ∘ C. The greatest uncertainty in S(T) is associated with the following: the uncertainty in mortality and fecundity of midges near optimal temperature for transmission; midges’ probability of becoming infectious post-infection at the lower edge of the thermal range; and the biting rate together with vector competence at the higher edge of the thermal range. We compare three model formulations and show that incorporating thermal curves into all three leads to similar BTV risk predictions. To demonstrate the utility of this modeling approach, we created global suitability maps indicating the areas at high and long-term risk of BTV transmission, to assess risk and to anticipate potential locations of disease establishment.

Parasites & Vectors. 2021 Jul 30;14(1):382