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USciences Professor on International Research Team Finding New Data on Dengue

Published on December 16, 2019

Robert MichaelIn a recent study published in Nature Scientific Data, an international team of interdisciplinary scientists found that in a ten-year period, there has been an increase in the transmission of Aedes-borne arboviruses in the city of Córdoba, Argentina. The team of researchers includes Michael Robert, PhD, assistant professor of applied mathematics in the Department of Mathematics, Physics, and Statistics at USciences.

In 2009, the city of Córdoba experienced its first major outbreak of dengue – a virus that is transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Córdoba, located in the southern cone of South America, has a mild temperate climate. Until recently, dengue transmission was restricted to tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The 2009 outbreak of dengue is a signal of a change that is happening globally—tropical mosquito-borne diseases are beginning to spread outside of the tropics because global surface temperatures are increasing due to climate change, global travel, and growing cities. This trifecta leads to a marked increase in the transmission of viruses like dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.  

“Through a combination of statistical and mathematical modeling studies, we will be able to develop a better idea of why and how these outbreaks have started occurring,” said Dr. Robert. “We can then develop mathematical models to study the impacts of potential mitigation strategies such as disease surveillance and mosquito control. We hope to be able to work with the local communities and government agencies to inform public health measures to help prevent future outbreaks.”

Michael RobertThe mosquito that transmits these viruses is urban, breeds in artificial containers in and around human dwellings, and prefers to feed on humans. As urbanization increases the density of human populations and as global surface temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, it is expected that illness due to dengue and related Aedes-borne viruses will continue to expand into temperate regions. 

The authors show that after the first outbreak in 2009, there have been a number of dengue outbreaks, with the largest epidemic occurring in 2016. The study also reports on the source of imported cases of dengue fever from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, and the northern Argentinian province of Formosa. 

“In a non-endemic city like Cordoba, travel, migration, and displacement within and outside the country becomes a significant risk factor for dengue emergence. The introduction of dengue virus in Córdoba city has been associated with outbreaks in the northern neighboring countries of Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. Higher temperatures leading to faster vector and virus development together with human movement became key factors to understand the ongoing dengue global emergence. ” stated Dr. Elizabet Estallo, senior author of the study.

MapThe growing number of outbreaks of mosquito-borne viruses in temperate climates is a global public health concern. Cities worldwide are experiencing increases in the transmission of arboviruses.  In 2016, Miami, Florida in the United States reported over 200 cases of Zika viruses in the Wynwood neighborhood. This follows smaller outbreaks of dengue in Martin County and the Florida Keys in 2012 and 2010, respectively. France, Croatia, and Italy have reported dengue and chikungunya outbreaks in the past decade due to the expansion of the Aedes albopictus mosquito, a secondary vector of these viruses. Through this study, the authors hope to provide key insights for regions around the world that are experiencing increases in virus transmission. 

“Human society needs to plan ahead for the expansion of disease threats that used to be found only in tropical regions. This is a rapidly changing world, and we need the public health sector to be ready,” stated Dr. Stewart Ibarra, Scientific Director of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research. 

Michael Robert CordovaThe study was conducted in collaboration with investigators from the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, USA; the Institute of Biological and Technical Investigations (IIBYT) CONICET – National University of Cordoba in Cordoba, Argentina; the Center of Entomological Investigations in Cordoba, Argentina, the Institute for Global Health and Translational Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, USA; the Department of Medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, USA; and the InterAmerican Institute for Global Change Research in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The study was supported in part by grants award to Dr. Robert and Dr. Stewart-Ibarra by the United States Embassy in Argentina administered through the Fulbright Commission, a PhD scholarship awarded to Elisabet Benitez from CONICET, and an undergraduate student scholarship awarded to Daniela Tinunin from the National Interuniversity Council. 

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