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“Ticks have really changed their life cycle because of the milder winters”

“Ticks have really changed their life cycle because of the milder winters”

Care and climate

Joachim Rockloff is Professor at the University of Heidelberg and Visiting Professor at Umeå University. Photo: Matthias Peterson.

A new, large, international research project will map how climate change is affecting infections between animals and humans. The coordinator is Swedish professor and epidemiologist Joachim Rockloff at Umeå University.

What will you do?

– According to estimates, 75 percent of all new viruses spread between animals and humans. But there is a lack of research and information on how climate change may affect the spread of this infection. We will work with environmentally and climate-sensitive infections and produce indicators of where development is going. In this way, perhaps we can, so to speak, challenge Olle in the portal.

Could the spread of the coronavirus be limited by this knowledge?

– Yes, it is possible. If we understand how climate change affects the behavior of animals and insects, we can do something about climate and adaptation so that we can protect ourselves at an early stage. An example of a disease that is increasing in Europe is Nile fever, which is believed to be spread by migratory birds. Their movement patterns are affected by climate change, but there are no reports on the relationship between the increased spread of infection and climate.

What types and environments will you study in Sweden?

– A case study on ticks will be done here. Tbe and Borrelia are spread between deer and humans, but by ticks. These are animals that have already changed their behavior and whose life cycle is affected by a warmer climate, but no one has yet linked them, for example, to the distribution and population of deer. If we have mild winters and springs, more ticks survive and head north, which means infectious diseases are occurring in new geographic areas where ticks are also finding new hosts.

How can healthcare professionals benefit from your upcoming discoveries?

We hope to be able to work with early warnings when it is a season with a high risk of infection spreading. Both healthcare professionals and the public can pay more attention to symptoms, so that diseases can be treated earlier. It can also lead to recommendations for vaccination against tick-borne infections in areas that previously did not have such a large distribution.

The research project is called IDAlert and runs for five years.

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