Climate change could drive rise in debilitating disease


A disease prevalent in developing countries could be spread by the changes in rainfall patterns according to a new study.

Buruli ulcer affects thousands of people every year, mainly in developing countries, and in the worst cases can cause fatality or permanent disability. The devastating bacterial infection starts with an area of swelling that becomes ulcerated, causing painful open wounds and necrosis of the skin. It is unknown how the water-borne disease is transmitted.

The study, published in Emerging Microbes and Infections, found a strong link between Buruli ulcer outbreaks in French Guiana, in South America, and changes in complex rainfall patterns, including extreme rainfall events driven by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO).  ENSO refers to warm and cool ocean-atmosphere events that take place off the coast of Western South America – with the study showing that this atmospheric anomaly can affect the spread of disease in this area.

Researchers from Bournemouth University found that outbreaks of Buruli ulcer can be triggered by changes in climate, with rainfall playing a large part in the spread of the disease.

Bournemouth University’s Aaron Morris was lead investigator on the research project as a part of his PhD. Aaron said, “Understanding how infection levels respond to climatic factors is hugely important, particularly with poorly understood, emergent diseases such as Buruli ulcer. These links help us shed light on their ecology and enable us to more accurately predict outbreaks. They are also vital in understanding how climate change will affect the dynamics and emergence of pathogens in the future.”

The research has focussed on the link between biodiversity and the spread of diseases in humans, with field research conducted in French Guiana focussing on Buruli ulcer. Biodiversity is an unpredictable and under-researched driving force in the prevalence and transmission of diseases, and this study shows the link between changing ecosystems and the occurrence of disease.

Bournemouth University experts Demetra Andreou, Rodolphe Gozlan and Hossein Hassani were also instrumental in researching Buruli ulcer.

As a result of the research, it may be possible to predict and prevent future outbreaks of the debilitating infection by predicting future weather patterns in countries that are susceptible to the disease and to fluctuating patterns of rainfall. The research also paves the way for future research into the impact of biodiversity and climate change on the spread of diseases.

BU academics research featured in The Times Higher Education

Researchers from Bournemouth University have made links between the changes in weather patterns to an infectious disease, as reported in The Times Higher Education (THE) magazine.

Their extensive research has led them to believe that the El Nino Southern Oscillation Phenomenon (an unusual climate pattern) could be the cause of Buruli ulcer, an infectious bacterial disease that affects thousands annually in French Guiana.

Aaron Morris, the lead investigator of the team and a PhD student studying at Bournemouth, has stated in the article that the research is “vital in understanding how climate change will affect the dynamics and emergence of pathogens in the future.”

The team hope this research will allow them to predict the outbreaks of the disease by observing the weather patterns.

By Charlotte Cranny-Evans

Charlotte is a graduate of Budmouth College in Weymouth, who is working at Bournemouth University in the Press and PR Department. She joined BU on a Sir Samuel Mico Scholarship, which provides 10 students from the college with work experience for four weeks over the summer.

International Ebola Outbreak

WHOAs you have probably seen in the press, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have declared that the Ebola outbreak is an “international emergency” with confirmed cases and deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. Official government advice from the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) at Public Health England (PHE) characterises the outbreak as low risk but potentially high consequence.

Medical advice remains that the risk to the UK is very low. The UK has an established, well-tested system to deal with any known or suspected imported case of this disease. As part of that, precautionary planning measures are being kept up to date and the UK’s Public Health authorities are working closely with clinicians, border staff and other agencies to ensure they are prepared to deal with any eventuality.

About Ebola

Ebola virus disease is a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90%. It is one of the world’s most virulent diseases. Ebola outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical rainforests. Ebola virus disease is rare.

The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people.

The risk of a student or member of staff becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing the disease after returning is extremely low, even if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported.

Guidance from the World Health Organisation

  • Persons who come into direct contact with body fluids of an infected person or animal are at risk
  • Ebola symptoms include fever, weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, and in some cases, bleeding.

Travel advice will be in accordance with that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The University continues to monitor the information from the World Health Organisation and Public Health England. Any suspected or confirmed case of Ebola will be managed by the University’s Communicable Diseases Policy.