Research Fellows Directory
Dr Mafalda Viana
University of Glasgow
My research area is disease ecology. I am particularly interested in how community structure affects disease dynamics.
Most pathogens are capable of infecting more than one host species. For example, 61% of all human pathogens are zoonotic, i.e. they are transmitted between animals and humans. These multi-host pathogens are likely to be encountered in several different host populations, some of which may constitute infection reservoirs. A reservoir may consist of one or more connected populations in which the pathogen can be permanently maintained and from which infection is transmitted (or ‘spill-over’) to a target population in which there is interest in controlling the pathogen. Identifying these reservoirs of infection and how they function is therefore crucial to devise effective control measures. My research focuses on developing methods to address these questions.
For example, canine distemper virus (CDV) is typically associated with domestic dogs, but due to its ability to infect multiple host species, CDV is currently considered one of the greatest threats to wild carnivores worldwide. In the Serengeti (Tanzania), the outbreak of CDV that decimated 30% of the lion population in 1994, has been attributed to spill-over from domestic dogs in the villages surrounding the Serengeti National Park. However, long-term maintenance and transmission mechanisms remain unclear, affecting effective control. My work has shown that in the Serengeti, infection dynamics initially driven by dogs have become asynchronous, with neither lions nor dogs capable of independent maintenance, although dogs still transmit to lions. This suggests that multiple populations, including domestic dogs but with other wildlife species, are maintaining CDV. Furthermore, widespread dog vaccination seems to reduce the probability of infection in dogs, but not in lions, suggesting the need for further examination of sustainable approaches for the management of CDV in wildlife.