The Bloomsbury Colleges | PhD Studentships | Studentships 2017 | Assessing risk, consequences and mitigation strategies for pathogen transmission between wild boar and livestock in Great Britain
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Assessing risk, consequences and mitigation strategies for pathogen transmission between wild boar and livestock in Great Britain

Principal supervisor: Dr Julian Drewe (RVC)

Co-supervisors: Dr Adam Kucharski (LSHTM)  Dr Simon Gubbins (The Pirbright Institute)  Dr Linda Dixon (The Pirbright Institute)

Project summary

Populations of wild boar have become re-established in Great Britain (GB) following farm escapes. The potential for disease transmission to domestic pigs and other livestock exists but is as yet unquantified. Diseases of particular concern that may be spread by wild boar include (1) African swine fever, which is currently absent from the UK but has spread via wild boar at an alarming rate from Russia into Eastern Europe recently and could appear in the UK soon; (2) Foot and Mouth Disease, an outbreak of which devastated the UK farming economy in 2001; (3) Classical swine fever, an outbreak of which in East Anglia in 2000 resulted in  the slaughter of 75,000 pigs, and for which outbreaks in domestic pigs in Europe have been linked to infections in wild boar (Schulz et al 2016); and (4) bovine tuberculosis, which is endemic in cattle in the southwest (but can also infect pigs) and consumes over 90% of the animal health surveillance budget in GB. If wild boar were to spread any of these diseases, or other important diseases such as the zoonosis Hepatitis E, it would threaten the production of safe and sustainable food, as well as negatively impact on animal health and welfare, and potentially human health too. This study aims to use mathematical modelling of empirical data (existing data and new data collected by the student during the project) to assess the risk of pathogen transmission between wild boar and livestock in GB.

Study objectives

The successful candidate will undertake a 4-year PhD starting in October 2017 that will comprise these four main activities:

  1. Undertake a systematic literature review to understand the current state of knowledge on, and gaps in our understanding of, the (potential) role of wild boar in pathogen transmission in other countries.
  2. Collect empirical data on space use and proximity between wild boar and commercial livestock farms, focusing on a rapidly-expanding free-living wild boar population in the Forest of Dean on the Gloucestershire-Wales border.
  3. Conduct laboratory analysis of samples collected from culled wild boar for major pathogens, and collation of these data with those collected as part of regular surveillance. The aim here is to provide up to date information on which pathogens are present in the wild boar population.
  4. Examine the potential role of wild boar in future disease outbreaks and model the effectiveness of a range of possible interventions strategies. This will involve combining mathematical models of disease transmission with wild boar interaction data, laboratory test results, population estimates and livestock movement data. A novel feature of this project will be the integration of multiple epidemiological and biological datasets to explore potential outbreak dynamics and required control measures.

The proposed project is very timely given the increase in wild boar numbers in GB, the recent incursion of African swine fever into Europe, and the range of potential other diseases that may become established in wild boar populations. This research will provide much-needed information on risks and mitigation strategies that will be useful to Defra in their capacity for preventing disease in farm animals, as well as benefiting farmers and the rural economy which may be devastated by outbreaks of major diseases.

Location of research

This study represents an excellent opportunity for a strongly-motivated candidate to develop their scientific skills under the supervision of experts at three institutions. The student’s main base will be the Royal Veterinary College Hawkshead campus as part of the thriving Veterinary Epidemiology, Economics and Public Health group. The successful student will spend time conducting mathematical modelling in the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases at LSHTM, and laboratory work at The Pirbright Institute. In addition, the student will undertake data collection in the field during years1-3.

Candidate requirements

Applicants for this position should demonstrate:

  1. A Bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine or biological science or related subject
  2. A Master’s degree in epidemiology/veterinary epidemiology/statistics or related subject
  3. Interest in the broad subject area
  4. Keenness to travel and undertake fieldwork within the UK
  5. Ability to work independently as well as under supervision
  6. Willingness to learn new skills e.g. in laboratory diagnosis, epidemiology, mathematical modelling
  7. Flexibility, because this PhD will involve working at several institutions and in the field.

Key References:

[1] Gill, R. and Waeber, K. (2016) Feral Wild Boar and Deer in the Forest of Dean: Survey and Population Projections in the Public Forest Estate 2016. Forest Research report. Available online: www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/infd-9fyfc5

[2] Guinat, C., Gubbins, S., Vergne, T., Gonzales, J., Dixon, L. and Pfeiffer, D.U. (2016) Experimental pig-to-pig transmission parameters for African swine fever virus, Georgia 2007/1 strain. Epidemiology and Infection144, 25-34.

[3] Schulz, J., Staubach, C., Conraths, F.J. and Schulz, K. (2016) A Simulation Model to Determine Sensitivity and Timeliness of Surveillance Strategies. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases. doi: 10.1111/tbed.12558.

Further details about the project may be obtained from:

Principal supervisor: Dr Julian Drewe (jdrewe@rvc.ac.uk)

http://www.rvc.ac.uk/about/our-people/julian-drewe

Co-supervisors: Dr Adam Kucharski  (adam.kucharski@lshtm)

http://www.lshtm.ac.uk/aboutus/people/kucharski.adam

Further information about PhDs at the Royal Veterinary College is available from:

http://www.rvc.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/phd

Application forms and details about how to apply are available from:

http://www.rvc.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/phd/how-to-apply

Closing date for applications is:

14th February 2017