Research Article: Climate change and African trypanosomiasis vector populations in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley: A mathematical modelling study

Date Published: October 22, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Jennifer S. Lord, John W. Hargrove, Stephen J. Torr, Glyn A. Vale, Madeleine Thomson

Abstract: BackgroundQuantifying the effects of climate change on the entomological and epidemiological components of vector-borne diseases is an essential part of climate change research, but evidence for such effects remains scant, and predictions rely largely on extrapolation of statistical correlations. We aimed to develop a mechanistic model to test whether recent increases in temperature in the Mana Pools National Park of the Zambezi Valley of Zimbabwe could account for the simultaneous decline of tsetse flies, the vectors of human and animal trypanosomiasis.Methods and findingsThe model we developed incorporates the effects of temperature on mortality, larviposition, and emergence rates and is fitted to a 27-year time series of tsetse caught from cattle. These catches declined from an average of c. 50 flies per animal per afternoon in 1990 to c. 0.1 in 2017. Since 1975, mean daily temperatures have risen by c. 0.9°C and temperatures in the hottest month of November by c. 2°C. Although our model provided a good fit to the data, it cannot predict whether or when extinction will occur.ConclusionsThe model suggests that the increase in temperature may explain the observed collapse in tsetse abundance and provides a first step in linking temperature to trypanosomiasis risk. If the effect at Mana Pools extends across the whole of the Zambezi Valley, then transmission of trypanosomes is likely to have been greatly reduced in this warm low-lying region. Conversely, rising temperatures may have made some higher, cooler, parts of Zimbabwe more suitable for tsetse and led to the emergence of new disease foci.

Partial Text: Tsetse flies (Glossina spp.) transmit protozoa of the genus Trypanosoma that cause sleeping sickness—human African trypanosomiasis (HAT)—in humans. The initial phase of HAT is characterised by intermittent fever and joint pains; thereafter, there are sleeping difficulties and confusion. Without treatment, the disease is fatal. Parasites of this genus also cause nagana—animal African trypanosomiasis (AAT)—in livestock.

The methods for the production of data for tsetse and climate were not guided by an analysis plan for the present study. Instead, the climate data were produced as a standard procedure at the research station over the past 59 years, and the tsetse data were obtained from previous studies [31–36].

While there are statistical models relating climate change to changes in vector populations [8,18–20], mechanistic models that relate climate change to data for the population dynamics of an important vector of human and animal pathogens are much less common. Our mechanistic model, incorporating the effects of temperature on mortality, larviposition, and emergence rates was sufficient to explain the observed decline in numbers of tsetse. The >99% decline in numbers reported here is comparable to the effects of successful large-scale tsetse control operations conducted in Zimbabwe.



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