A new algorithm quantifies the roles of wind and midge flight activity in the bluetongue epizootic in northwest Europe

Luigi Sedda, Heidi E. Brown, Bethan V. Purse, Laura Burgin, John Gloster, David J. Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


The 2006 bluetongue (BT) outbreak in northwestern Europe had devastating effects on cattle and sheep in that intensively farmed area. The role of wind in disease spread, through its effect on Culicoides dispersal, is still uncertain, and remains unquantified. We examine here the relationship between farm-level infection dates and wind speed and direction within the framework of a novel model involving both mechanistic and stochastic steps. We consider wind as both a carrier of host semio-chemicals, to which midges might respond by upwind flight, and as a transporter of the midges themselves, in a more or less downwind direction. For completeness, we also consider midge movement independent of wind and various combinations of upwind, downwind and random movements. Using stochastic simulation, we are able to explain infection onset at 94 per cent of the 2025 affected farms. We conclude that 54 per cent of outbreaks occurred through (presumably midge) movement of infections over distances of no more than 5 km, 92 per cent over distances of no more than 31 km and only 2 per cent over any greater distances. The modal value for all infections combined is less than 1 km. Our analysis suggests that previous claims for a higher frequency of long-distance infections are unfounded. We suggest that many apparent long-distance infections resulted from sequences of shorter-range infections; a ‘stepping stone’ effect. Our analysis also found that downwind movement (the only sort so far considered in explanations of BT epidemics) is responsible for only 39 per cent of all infections, and highlights the effective contribution to disease spread of upwind midge movement, which accounted for 38 per cent of all infections. The importance of midge flight speed is also investigated. Within the same model framework, lower midge active flight speed (of 0.13 rather than 0.5 m s21) reduced virtually to zero the role of upwind movement, mainly because modelled wind speeds in the area concerned were usually greater than such flight speed. Our analysis, therefore, highlights the need to improve our knowledge of midge flight speed in field situations, which is still very poorly understood. Finally, the model returned an intrinsic incubation period of 8 days, in accordance with the values reported in the literature. We argue that better understanding of the movement of infected insect vectors is an important ingredient in the management of future outbreaks of BT in Europe, and other devastating vector-borne diseases elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2354-2362
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1737
StatePublished - Jun 22 2012


  • Bluetongue
  • Culicoides flight
  • Disease spread
  • Mechanistic and stochastic simulation
  • Wind fields

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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