Emerging and Vector-borne Diseases Programme

networks and partnerships
  • Vector-borne diseases rely upon organisms, named vectors, such as mosquitoes, tic​​ks​ or sandflies that have an active role in the transmission of a pathogen from one host to the other, and also, in a broader sense, upon animals such as rodents, bats or pets, acting as reservoirs/carrier of pathogens of concern to human beings.
  • An emerging (or re-emerging) infectious disease generally is a disease (i) that arises through evolution or change in existing pathogens, (ii) was previously unrecognised or (iii) is already known but spreads to new geographic areas, or new ​populations, or reappears after having been eradicated.

The Emerging and Vector-borne Diseases (EVD) Programme contributes to the EU-wide preparedness and response capabilities. It provides Member States with access to expertise, topical assessments of disease risks and decision support tools with the latest scientific knowledge.

The EVD Programme supports networks, gathering expertise from institutes, universities, research projects and public health institutions across the EU such as:

  • Emerging Viral Diseases-Expert Laboratory Network (EVD LabNet)​
  • European network for sharing data on the geographic distribution of arthropod vectors, transmitting human and animal disease agents (VectorNet)​ 

Context

Emerging and vector-borne diseases pose a special challenge to ECDC and national public health authorities due to the biological complexity of their transmission pattern and their epidemiological potential. In recent years, several vector-borne disease outbreaks have occurred in Europe and an increased establishment and spread of invasive mosquitoes or spread of native ticks in new areas has been observed. New pathogens (e.g. bornavirus in “exotic” squirrels) have been identified and emergence of zoonosis in new areas have increase the risk of spread (e.g. Ebola in West Africa). It is anticipated that novel and unusual outbreaks of emerging and vector-borne diseases will occur with progressive risk towards endemicity in some areas.

Most vector-borne diseases have their own complex epidemiological features, like seasonality and periods of pathogen persistence in reservoirs or vectors without occurrence of human disease. They can quickly (re-) emerge or be (re-)introduced under the right conditions. ECDC’s day-to-day contribution is to share real-time mapping of cases during transmission seasons for the whole of Europe, giving national health authorities (e.g. blood transfusion authorities) timely information for decision making. Furthermore, truly new or rare diseases might appear or re-appear (e.g. louse-borne diseases). Efforts to monitor and control these uncommon diseases are hampered by often limited capacity for detection combined with some lack of knowledge or awareness of clinicians.

It is important to stress that Member States are facing different threats with regards to these diseases. In general though, four types of data are needed to understand and assess the risks linked to the different emerging and vector-borne disease situations in Member States: 1) disease data; 2) pathogen presence (in human, reservoir hosts or vectors); 3) the occurrence of vectors and 4) data on suitable environmental conditions and social/behavioural changes. This requires a wider perspective on the surveillance of EVD than usual. Moreover, improved assessment tools are needed such as risk mapping, risk forecasting and orientation on control strategies.

Strategic objectives of the EVD Programme

The EVD Programme contributes to strengthening the EU-wide preparedness and response capabilities. It provides Member States with access to expertise, topical assessments of the risks these diseases pose to EU citizens, and a wide range of decision support tools with the latest scientific knowledge. The key strategic objectives of the EVD Programme are:

1. Strengthen general preparedness and response for emerging and vector-borne diseases in the EU/EEA (and pre-accessing countries) by:

(i) Providing combined human and animal epidemiological data as well as relevant and timely information on vectors and natural reservoirs;

(ii) Providing Member States with guidance, risk assessment and assessment tools using modelling approaches to support decision-making;

(iii) Providing ad-hoc country support and access to training and specific expertise.

2. Strengthen EU capacity for early detection, confirmation and surveillance of emerging and vector-borne diseases by:

(i) Working with different expert networks providing scientific advice, updated information on vectors and control, and laboratory capacity for diagnostic;

(ii) Facilitating interactions and exchanges of expertise with Member States at EU level, regional level and worldwide through closer contacts with international networks and key stakeholders.

3. Assess the effects of social and environmental drivers and determinants on emerging and vector-borne related threats for a comprehensive understanding of the risk of importing infectious diseases and potential spread of outbreak to/from the EU.

Specific actions include:

  • Coordination of a network on arthropod borne-vector diseases, which provides technical advice on ad hoc request, maps of surveillance activities and geographical distribution of the main vectors (ticks, mosquitoes, sandflies) in the EU. It also provides a strategic support to address considerations for ECDC's future activities in the field of vector surveillance, in order to strengthen preparedness in the EU for vector-borne diseases;
  • Support of a network of laboratories for outbreak assistance to strengthen European capacities to detect emerging and vector-borne diseases. The network provides ECDC with technical advice and outbreak support on request, and performs external quality assessments (EQA) and public health microbiology training on these pathogens;
  • Review of the epidemiological knowledge on relevant emerging and vector-borne diseases like borreliosis, tick-borne encephalitis, Q-fever and rickettsiosis, and identification of gaps in terms of epidemiological surveillance and control;
  • Development of specific tools to improve risk assessment;
  • Provision of ad hoc scientific advice for threat investigation in collaboration with external expertise.

Strategic Multi-annual programme (2014-2020) for Emerging and Vector-borne Diseases (EVD)

Context and future outlook

Emerging and vector-borne diseases pose a special challenge to ECDC and national public health authorities because of the complexity of their transmission patterns and their potential to cause large and sudden outbreaks.

In recent years, several vector-borne disease outbreaks have occurred in Europe, along with an increased establishment and spread of invasive mosquitoes. The spread of ticks into new areas has also been observed.

It is anticipated that novel and unusual outbreaks of emerging and vector-borne diseases will occur, with the added risk of these diseases becoming endemic in some areas in Europe. Most vector-borne diseases have their own complex epidemiological features, such as seasonality and periods of pathogen persistence in reservoirs or vectors without occurrence of human disease. They can quickly (re-)emerge or be (re-)introduced under the suitable conditions.

ECDC’s focus

ECDC’s day-to-day contribution is to share real-time mapping of cases during transmission seasons for the whole of Europe, giving national health authorities (e.g. blood transfusion authorities) timely information for decision-making. ECDC also collects data so that public health experts can better understand the factors that can trigger sudden outbreaks.

By 2020, ECDC will have:

1. Contributed to general preparedness, included training, for emerging and vector-borne diseases by providing relevant and timely surveillance information on vectors, reservoirs, animal and human disease.

2. Produced scenarios for Member States based on risk maps and models, and provided guidance and access to expertise and training.

Partners

The programme team works in close collaboration with the rich source of experts and expertise from various institutes, universities, research projects and public health networks across the EU and the relevant bodies of the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), EU Member States, and international organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO).

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