In 2005, a workshop was organised in Brussels on “EU funded research in bluetongue”. At the end of this meeting, suggested directions for future research work was presented.
The research needs identified by participants in the final discussion session are summarized and divided into sections covering each main research topic. No prioritization is made at this stage. In each section, suggested research directions are listed, preceded where appropriate, by a summary of the comments of participants. Needs that extended across several research topics included a requirement to develop effective mechanisms for technology transfer, for training and for the exchange of expertise. It was also felt to be extremely important to maintain and enhance the involvement of scientists from outside Europe, particularly those in neighbouring countries, in all areas of work.
Whilst some participants felt that the seasonality of vector activity and vector distributions were adequately known - others felt that more detailed investigation of these patterns and the processes underlying them would answer a range of important epidemiological questions and lead to more accurate risk maps that could be utilised to target control measures.
Participants emphasised the need for Europe-wide dissemination of information that is collected on BTV circulation within countries. It was felt that existing surveillance methods should be standardised (e.g. timing and frequency of serum-sampling, comparison of trap efficiency between the different light traps in use or use of a single light trap type only).
The paucity of experimental work on vector control methods for Culicoides was highlighted as well as the considerable potential for the development of chemical products in partnership with industry. Pour-ons for ruminants as well as repellents were mentioned specifically. However, before the effect of control methods on vector populations can be accurately ascertained there is a need to acquire basic entomological data on vector breeding site characterization and the effect of farm husbandry practices on vector numbers.
Live-virus vaccines have been used successfully to control BT disease in certain areas for many years though concerns about the production of clinical signs in some sheep breeds, the development of viraemia in vaccinates and the high potential for onward transmission by Culicoides in the field, possibly leading to re-assortment with field strains were highlighted. New whole virus inactivated vaccines are currently being developed that do not suffer from such drawbacks and sub unit vaccines are likely to be the next stage. Further development and refinement of these new vaccines was considered essential as was the development of delivery systems designed to enhance and extend protection. The benefits accrued by the development of such technologies could extend to human as well as animal diseases. The early involvement of industrial partners in these studies was considered of high importance to ensure that new products become commercially available as rapidly as possible. The issue of the complex regulatory requirements required to get products to the market in Europe was compared unfavourably to other regions of the globe on several occasions.
Advances have been made in the knowledge of BT disease and in the tools for its prevention and control. However, it is a complex disease which is expanding in the EU and major research efforts need to be pursued. As a transboundary disease bluetongue needs to be tackled at international level also with regard to research. The research needs identified will be taken into consideration when developing EU research programmes and the Strategic Research Agenda of the European Technology Platform for Global Animal Health.
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