Climate Changes and Emerging Wildlife-Borne Viruses in Norway – a follow up on major knowledge gaps and research needs


Dr. Malachy Okeke

Dr. Malachy Okeke Photo:

Malachy Okeke has written a short follow up to Biosafety Report 2014/01. Biosafety Report 2014/01 authored by Terje Traavik explored the relationships between climate change and emerging wildlife-borne viruses in Norway. Most serious virus diseases affecting humans, wildlife and domesticated animals are caused by viruses with host and reservoir in mosquitoes, ticks, midgets, small rodents, migratory birds and bats. The epidemiology of Zika virus, West Nile virus, Dengue virus and Ebola virus are timely but fatal reminder that viruses can emerge from reservoir species, jump host and cause epidemics. Most importantly, climate warming can extend the habitat of competent reservoir hosts, contribute to the acquisition of competence by potential local reservoirs and accelerate spread from reservoirs hosts (e.g mosquitoes) to vertebrate hosts (e.g humans). Until now, Norway and Fennoscandia are protected from emerging viruses and their hosts due to low average temperatures across all seasons. This natural barrier may be eroded due to climate warming with attendant tropical or sub-tropical temperatures in Norway. This in concert with other anthropogenic factors like air travel, commerce, urbanization and chemical pollution will cause perturbation in the vector borne virus episystem in Norway. Thus, viruses and their reservoir hosts previously restricted to tropical and sub-tropical regions may find new ecological niche in Norway and Fennoscandia.

A key finding of Biosafety Report 2014/01 is the paucity of research data concerning the occurrence, distribution and evolution of vector borne viruses in Norway, their reservoir and vertebrate hosts and the influence of climate warming and other anthropogenic factors on virus host interactions. The short follow up report by Malachy Okeke highlights the major knowledge gaps and omitted research, and briefly proposes key research that needs to be undertaken in order to fill in the knowledge gaps in the short, medium and long term. In particular, the short follow up proposes a metagenomics analysis of ancient viruses trapped in permafrost in Spitsbergen, analysis of the nature and distribution of viromes and their reservoir/vertebrate hosts across Norway ecological region (north and south), seasons (winter, summer, autumn and spring), human activities (airports, road tunnels, urban and rural) as well as mapping the effected of multiple stressors especially simulated temperature warming and chemical pollution on the virus genome, transcriptome and proteome. (link to follow up report). Undoubtedly, data that will be generated from the outlined research needs will be essential to forecasting of future transmission risks, prediction of future outbreaks, development of vaccines, antivirals and diagnostic methods a priori to virus outbreaks as well as contribute to our understanding of viral and host determinants of virulence, transmission, and host range.

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