The University of Aberdeen is leading an international collaboration of researchers in a new £1.8m project that aims to develop strategies to reduce disease transmission from rodents to humans.

Diseases transmitted from rodents to humans are a serious threat to health, with the highest risk in low-income countries.

The spread of rodent-borne infections (RBI) is dependent on the numbers of infected animals, as well as how socio-cultural practices and beliefs influence human-rodent interactions. Many species implicated in disease transmission are also pests that feed on crops and stored food, and consequently management to reduce numbers could have a wide impact on health and well-being.

The three-year project - Developing effective rodent control strategies to reduce disease risk in ecologically and culturally diverse rural landscapes – starts early next year and has been funded through a grant from the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Dr Sandra Telfer, of the University’s School of Biological Sciences, is leading the interdisciplinary team of international experts in ecology, anthropology, epidemiology and public health, with members from the University of Greenwich, the University of St Andrews, the Pasteur Institute of Madagascar, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Muhimbili University of Health & Allied Sciences (Tanzania), Association Vahatra (Madagascar).

The research will address two key questions: how do rodent movements change after localised control of populations, and how does control influence the prevalence of RBI in rodent populations?

Dr Telfer said that controlling populations of rats and mice is challenging.

“Innovative approaches that exploit ecological understanding of where and when rodents breed have been developed in the agricultural sector, primarily in Asia, with communities working together to target control and significantly reduce crop damage. However, such techniques are poorly developed in Africa and their impact on the risk from RBI is unknown.

“Also, as effective control strategies have to be accepted and sustainable for local communities, we need to understand local perceptions and practices.

“The aim of this project is to reduce the risk from RBI in communities in Tanzania and Madagascar, by increasing the knowledge and expertise needed to develop holistic rodent management applicable for local conditions and communities.

“Our research will focus on the multimammate mouse, a key pest species in Africa, and the black rat, a globally important invasive pest, and consider three RBI: plague, leptospirosis and rickettsioses. The results will provide important insights into how ecological, epidemiological and socio-cultural factors influence the impact of different control strategies on RBI and rodent damage.”

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