The impacts of weather and climate change on the spread of bluetongue into the United Kingdom
Burgin, Laura Elizabeth
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
A large epizootic of the vector-borne disease bluetongue occurred in northern Europe from 2006-2009, costing the economies of the infected countries several hundreds of millions of euros. During this time, the United Kingdom (UK) was exposed to the risk of bluetongue by windborne incursions of infected Culicoides biting midges from the northern coast of mainland Europe. The first outbreaks which occurred in the UK in 2007 were attributed to this cause. Although bluetongue virus (BTV) no longer appears to be circulating in northern Europe, it is widely suggested that it and other midge-borne diseases may emerge again in the future, particularly under a changing climate. Spread of BTV is strongly influenced by the weather and climate however limited use has been made of meteorologically based models to generate predictions of its spread to the UK. The extent to which windborne BTV spread can be modelled at timescales from days to decades ahead, to inform tactical and strategic decisions taken to limit its transmission, is therefore examined here. An early warning system has been developed to predict possible incursion events on a daily timescale, based on an atmospheric dispersion model adapted to incorporate flight characteristics of the Culicoides vectors. The system’s warning of the first UK outbreak in September 2007 was found to be greatly beneficial to the UK livestock industry. The dispersion model is also shown to be a useful post-outbreak epidemiological analysis tool. A novel approach has been developed to predict BTV spread into the UK on climate-change timescales as dispersion modelling is not practical over extended periods of time. Using a combination of principal component and cluster analyses the synoptic scale atmospheric circulations which control when local weather conditions are suitable for midge incursions were determined. Changes in the frequency and timing of these large scale circulations over the period 2000 to 2050 were then examined using an ensemble of regional climate model simulations. The results suggest areas of UK under the influence of easterly winds may face a slight increase in risk and the length of the season where temperatures are suitable for BTV replication is likely to increase by around 20 days by 2050. However a high level of uncertainty is associated with these predictions so a flexible decision making approach should be adopted to accommodate better information as it becomes available in the future.
The UK Met Office
Agren, E.C.C., Burgin, L., Lewerin, S.S., Gloster, J., Elvander, M. 2010. Possible means of introduction of bluetongue virus serotype 8 (BTV-8) to Sweden in August 2008: comparison of results from two models for atmospheric transport of the Culicoides vector. Veterinary Record, 167, 484-488.
Burgin, L., Gloster, J., Mellor, P.S. 2009. Why were there no outbreaks of bluetongue in the UK during 2008? Veterinary Record, 164, 384-387.
Sanders, C.J., Burgin, L., Pallot, A., Barber, J., Golding, N., Carpenter, S., Gloster, J. 2010. A study of potential bluetongue vectors and meteorology in Jersey. Weather, 65, 21-26.
PhD in Geography