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Detecting Vector Borne Disease: IAEA and FAO Help Enhance Capacity in Europe

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Specialists in the field of veterinary diagnostics meet in Tbilisi, Georgia, 16-20 April 2018. (Photo: IAEA)

Mosquitoes, ticks, flies, lice, aquatic snails have a particular feature in common ­ they can transmit disease to animals and humans. These diseases are called ‘vector-borne’ as their transmission occurs via a vector (a mosquito, tick, etc.) that carries and transmits the infectious pathogen into another living organism. Early detection is key to preventing disease outbreaks, and the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently held a meeting to enhance European countries’ capacity in this regard.

Twenty-one specialists working in the field of veterinary diagnostics have met in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, at a meeting organised collaboratively by the IAEA, FAO and Georgia’s National Food Agency of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture. The goal of the meeting, held as part of a regional IAEA technical cooperation project[1], was to develop strategies for enhancing capacities to detect and differentiate vector borne diseases and to identify host vector carriers. The primary focus was on techniques for the early and rapid detection of animal and zoonotic (transmissible from animals to humans) vector borne diseases.

In recent decades, due in part to global warming and increased global travel and trade, the risk of transmission of vector borne diseases has significantly increased in regions where these were previously unknown. Recent examples of animal diseases, such as bluetongue disease, lumpy skin disease and African swine fever in Northern Europe, as well as Rift Valley fever in Africa are demonstrating these trends. Similar trends have been observed with zoonotic diseases, such as leishmaniasis, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vector borne diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious diseases, causing more than 700 000 deaths annually. Losses in animal production caused by vector borne diseases are estimated in billions of US dollars annually.

Nuclear and nuclear derived techniques are used to detect, monitor and trace these vectors borne pathogens and their carriers. The most commonly used nuclear and nuclear derived techniques are radioimmunoassay (RIA), enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and genetic sequencing.

The regional IAEA technical cooperation project was initiated in January 2018, in partnership with FAO. It is expected to substantially improve the preparedness and response capacities of national veterinary laboratories in early and rapid detection, and of veterinary services in the timely response to priority vector borne diseases in the European region, using nuclear and nuclear-derived technologies for pathogen detection, differentiation and characterization. The countries participating in the project are IAEA Member States with officially designated veterinary laboratories responsible for the diagnosis of animal and zoonotic diseases, with a special focus on vector borne diseases.

During the meeting, the participants worked together to develop a project strategy and work plan to harmonize technologies in participating laboratories, aimed at ensuring quality, quantity and comparability of results. They also described the current capacities in their respective laboratories, as well as capacity gaps and needs.

The workshop was attended by representatives from Albania, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan and Turkey.

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[1] RER5023, ‘Enhancing National Capabilities for Early and Rapid Detection of Priority Vector Borne Diseases of Animals (Including Zoonoses) by Means of Molecular Diagnostic Tools’.

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