Prevention of infection requires us to understand how individuals come into contact with each other and microbes, and determining which individuals are most vulnerable to infection.
We study these interactions across many scales, from the molecular interplay between microbe and host, through to modelling the changes in parasite frequency in populations.
Areas of research
- Determining microbial factors that determine the progression of infection.
- Evaluating why infection outcome varies between individuals, with particular reference to the impact of individual condition and history of infection.
- Understanding the development of the microbiome in a healthy host, and understanding the importance of symbiotic microbes for host function.
- Combining the above to understand the dynamics of pathogens/parasites in natural populations, and their influence on host ecology and evolution.
Our research impacts on society by preventing illness through the development of interventions that prevent infection, improving the health of livestock animals, animals in aquaculture and honey bees, and by enhancing the efficacy of sterile insect release for pest/vector control through microbiome modulation.
Impact case study
The World Health Organisation estimates that by 2030, six in every ten people will live in urban areas, and currently, one third of residents in urban areas live in slums. Poverty itself, and poor sanitation and water access in slum areas lead to increases in many infectious diseases including those that are water-borne. Slum sites also provide optimal habitat for wild animal reservoirs of human infection, especially rats. Disease burden in urban slums is itself underreported. As elsewhere, prevention is far preferable to cure. Leptospirosis is a disease caused by pathogenic spirochaete bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Humans contract leptospire infections via direct contact with animal reservoirs or with water contaminated with their urine when leptospires enter open cuts or wounds. Leptospirosis is thought to be the most widespread zoonosis in the world (a disease spread from animal reservoirs to humans). Rats are the most common reservoir hosts.
Salvador is the third largest city in Brazil. A massive population increase of the urban population from 58% to 80% of the total between 1970 and 2000 has led to the creation and expansion of urban slum settlements. Mike Begon, working with colleagues from Brazil and Yale University, and funded by the National Insitute of Health in the United States, is working to control leptospirosis in a slum site in Salvador. There, the overall prevalence of leptospira antibodies is 15.4%, and there are many cases that are severe and indeed fatal. Our project seeks to understand the dynamics of leptospire abundance in their rodent reservoir host, and in the environmental reservoirs where infected rodent urine is shed. This will impact on the behaviour and policies of public health authorities and urban planners. It will allow better targeting of interventions to control rodents (when in the year; reduced to what level; in the domestic or shared/peridomestic environment etc); it will allow better targeting of civil engineering interventions (where and how to construct storm drains and replace silty or muddy with paved surfaces); and it will improve the advice given to favela residents. These will all impact on leptospire disease burden in this community, with implications throughout the world.
The wellbeing of an individual depends on our being able to both treat the illnesses that the microbes cause and maintain the microbes that make us healthyProfessor Greg Hurst, Theme Lead
Theme members and publications
Read about the academic staff working together on this theme and see their latest publications