Where will the next form of flavivirus infection come from?

Where will the next form of flavivirus infection come from?
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After collecting and comparing data with every known mammal and bird species on Earth, scientists have identified species most likely to host different forms of flavivirus infection.

Different types of flavivirus infection are known to cause major epidemics and widespread illness and death throughout the world. And now the University of California, Davis (UC Davis), USA, have identified wildlife species that are the most likely to host flaviviruses such as Zika, West Nile, dengue and yellow fever.

The rising concerns of virus transmissions

Recently, flavivirus infection’s such as Zika emerged and continues to circulate in South America and Southeast Asia. There is also an increased concern that Japanese encephalitis virus will emerge in Europe. With infectious diseases on the rise, researchers have begun to compile data identifying the different species prone to such viruses and map where in the world they are likely to occur.

For this study, the researchers collected all the published data on wildlife species that have tested positive for flaviviruses. They identified important host traits, such as environmental and physiological features, then used a machine-learning model that considered the roughly 10,400 avian and 5,400 mammal species in order to identify the most likely species to host viruses.

Lead author Pranav Pandit, a postdoctoral scholar with the UC Davis One Health Institute’s EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics in the School of Veterinary Medicine says: “Tomorrow, if there’s an outbreak anywhere in the world, we now know which wildlife species are most likely to be infected in addition to humans.”

A model which maps flavivirus infection

The researchers highlighted how the modelling work can help identify which primate species could be potential virus hosts. For example, the model specified that primates are the main hosts of Zika and yellow fever, but only nine of the 21 primate species predicted to be hosts have been detected with either of those viruses due to limited surveillance activities among these species to date.

The resulting ‘hot spot’ maps show regions of the world with high diversity of potential wildlife hosts of flaviviruses, viruses mostly spread by mosquitoes and ticks. These include regions where flaviviruses have not been detected but that have wildlife species with the potential to accommodate them.

The information provides scientists and health authorities with a road map for disease detection and surveillance efforts.

“We needed this modelling technique to help us understand the most likely hosts for these viruses in their natural habitat,” said Christine Kreuder Johnson, director of the EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics. “That’s important for both global health and wildlife conservation. Many of these primates are already endangered, and these diseases burden an already strained population.”

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