There is no question that online interfaces providing real-time information on the evolution of the pandemic have proved very useful during the coronavirus epidemic. There are many websites presenting domestic and international data and statistics related to the epidemic visually as graphs, charts and maps. This information has helped the population to assess emergency situations and also helped support decision-makers in developing appropriate protection strategies. The www.szunyogmonitor.hu website will be launched on April 1 (an English version at mosquitosurveillance.hu will also be available soon) with the help of researchers from the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research (CER). As part the Hungarian Mosquito Surveillance project (Szúnyogmonitor) project, the site has been further developed by the researchers with the aim of using the ‘citizen science’ method to help map the domestic spread of invasive mosquito species that spread pathogens and viruses which are dangerous to humans.
Climate change and the increase in global trade has meant that many invasive species have entered Europe in recent decades, including Hungary. One of the detrimental effects of the appearance of these species is that they can spread the pathogens of a variety of diseases, posing a health threat as a result. In assessing these threats, it is vital to have a scientifically sound, accurate picture of any ecological processes that prevent epidemics from impacting our societies.
There are a total of 50 indigenous species of mosquito native to Hungary. However, in the last ten years three new invasive species have arrived that are capable of spreading the pathogens of many diseases – various viruses and nematodes – which are potentially dangerous to humans and domestic animals. The first step to preventing potential epidemics is to find out in which areas of the country invasive mosquito species are found, how they spread, when they appear, and whether they carry the pathogens of different diseases. This monitoring activity is a huge technical challenge, as researchers have to map the distribution of invasive species on an annual basis. To increase the effectiveness of this work, the researchers sought the help of the public.
Citizen science is an approach that has been on the rise in recent decades and is increasingly popular in international scientific research. Advances in science have made it possible to use increasingly sophisticated and advanced precision measuring instruments. However, at least as important is the collection of large amounts of data, and the public can be of great help in this.
Researchers in Hungarian Mosquito Surveillance project already turned to the citizen science method last year to observe a dangerous species of mosquito. When the population thought they had discovered an invasive mosquito species, they sent photos or captured specimens for the researchers, who identified them by scientific methods, validated the samples, and finally presented a static map of the spread on a website. With the help of the data visualization development team of the Koronamonitor (Corona Monitor) website, the project has now been given a much more modern interface. Engaging infographic representations can now be used to observe data on the distribution and activity of invasive mosquito species in time and space, including by county. It is vital that as many people as possible are made aware of the interface, as this can increase the public’s willingness to participate in this modern and socially useful research project, and at the same time increase the volume of data submitted.
According to the researchers, it is also important to take into account the results of the Hungarian Mosquito Surveillance project when considering the practicalities of mosquito control. This is because if the authorities plan to eradicate them due to an epidemiological threat or invasive mosquitoes, it is advisable to eradicate these species where they are actually present. On the other hand, if a mosquito control program that burdens the environment is carried out without taking into account the actual spread of the target species, a large area of the country will be sprayed with harmful pesticides unnecessarily.
The ecological concept behind the Hungarian Mosquito Surveillance project is that the problem should not be treated after an epidemic has already spread, but rather that the necessary preventative steps should be taken based on the appropriate ecological diagnosis, before an epidemic occurs. “The modern epidemiological control strategy is based on ecological monitoring, which is more effective, and lowers the risk of an epidemic and also the chance that human diseases will have to be mapped in the future. In terms of researchers for this purpose, there are only a few of us, but as it turned out last year, there are more people who are willing to help.” This was how László Zsolt Garamszegi, director of the CER Institute of Ecology and Botany, senior researcher at the Hungarian Mosquito Surveillance project, summed up the significance of the project.
The project is aided significantly by the completion of a mobile app (MosquitoAlert) that enables users to contribute to the research by uploading images and various other information.