Identifying Sylvatic Reservoir Species of Outbreak-Prone Arthropodborne Viruses Through Large-Scale Serostatus Mapping in African Wildlife


01.01.20 → 31.12.23

Arthropod-borne (arbo)viruses require a hematophagous arthropod vector for transmission to vertebrates and are responsible for a significant global public health burden with over 100 viral species having the capacity to cause disease in humans. During enzootic periods, arboviruses survive in sylvatic cycles involving a variety of species of which many are currently not identified, especially not in Africa. We hypothesize that primates, which are often put forward as reservoir species, are likely accidental hosts because their population numbers and number of susceptible offspring are not sufficiently high to maintain sylvatic cycles during extended epizootic periods. It is therefore more plausible that high-density species like rodents, bats and birds are important arbovirus reservoirs. These species have large numbers of offspring ensuring sufficient immunologically naïve animals at any time, and they are often attracted to human settlements, creating opportunities for transmission to humans. To challenge this hypothesis, we will study the seroprevalence of 24 arboviruses in +30,000 specimens of rodent, bat, bird, primates and humans from across the African continent, using a high-throughput antibody detection platform. Next, we will perform molecular verification of host species, infer distribution ranges and do phylogeographic analyses. The results from this study will be instrumental to better predict, control and prevent virus spill over and outbreaks in humans.

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FWO Senior Research Project

Other members

  • Kevin ARIËN (ITM, Antwerp), coordinator
  • Martine PEETERS (IRD Montpellier/INSERM)
  • Wim de Kesel (University of Antwerp)

Research team