Gábor Földvári, a senior researcher at the Institute of Evolutionary Sciences (ETI) of the ELKH Centre for Ecological Research, deals with the epidemiology and ecology of ticks and tick-borne pathogens. His research examines the effects of climate change and human activity on the distribution of ticks and the pathogens they spread, such as the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
The common tick (Ixodes ricinus) can easily adapt to a changing environment, and its spread has been observed both in terms of altitude and northerly locations. When the winter is mild and spring comes earlier, the period of activity of ticks is significantly extended to both early spring and late autumn. In addition, ticks carried by migratory birds towards the temperate zone also become more and more easily overwintered, which means that the risk of infection is higher. Overwintered adult specimens of some Hyalomma tick species have been observed in Germany and several areas in Sweden, and we can also expect their appearance in Hungary.
A recent study in Nature’s columns looked globally at the impact of human intervention in nature on hosts of zoonotic pathogens. The researchers were looking to answer the question of the extent of change in the proportion and amount of so-called reservoir hosts as a result of human disturbance. Analyzing the nationwide database, the researchers came to the conclusion that human intervention has a systematic and predictable impact on the presence of reservoir hosts. Analysis shows that vertebrate hosts carrying human pathogens account for a greater proportion of species richness and a higher individual density in areas used by humans than in more undisturbed habitats. All this is in line with the previous research findings of Gábor Földvári and his colleagues, which demonstrated that hedgehogs occur in significantly higher densities in parks in urban areas, which allows populations of ticks and pathogens to be maintained.
Climate change and human intervention in nature are constantly creating new opportunities for pathogens to emerge, which is why it is extremely important to focus on prevention. Using the DAMA protocol (Document, Assess, Monitor, Act), EIT researchers monitor zoonotic pathogens that pose a threat to humans. Further details here.