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1.  Mathematical modelling of Echinococcus multilocularis abundance in foxes in Zurich, Switzerland 
Parasites & Vectors  2017;10:21.
In Europe, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the main definitive host of Echinococcus multilocularis, the aetiological agent of a severe disease in humans called alveolar echinococcosis. The distribution of this zoonotic parasite among the fox population is remarkably aggregated with few heavily infected animals harbouring much of the parasite burdens and being responsible for most of the environmental parasitic egg contamination. Important research questions explored were: (i) spatial differences in parasite infection pressure related to the level of urbanization; (ii) temporal differences in parasite infection pressure in relation to time of the year; (iii) is herd immunity or an age-dependent infection pressure responsible for the observed parasite abundance; (iv) assuming E. multilocularis infection is a clumped process, how many parasites results from a regular infection insult.
By developing and comparing different transmission models we characterised the spatio-temporal variation of the infection pressure, in terms of numbers of parasites that foxes acquired after exposure per unit time, in foxes in Zurich (Switzerland). These included the variations in infection pressure with age of fox and season and the possible regulating effect of herd immunity on parasite abundance.
The model fitting best to the observed data supported the existence of spatial and seasonal differences in infection pressure and the absence of parasite-induced host immunity. The periodic infection pressure had different amplitudes across urbanization zones with higher peaks during autumn and winter. In addition, the model indicated the existence of variations in infection pressure among age groups in foxes from the periurban zone.
These heterogeneities in infection exposure have strong implications for the implementation of targeted control interventions to lower the intensity of environmental contamination with parasite eggs and, ultimately, the infection risk to humans.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13071-016-1951-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC5225524  PMID: 28077161
Echinococcus multilocularis; Alveolar echinococcosis; Epidemiology; Transmission; Mathematical modelling
2.  Dynamics of the Force of Infection: Insights from Echinococcus multilocularis Infection in Foxes 
Characterizing the force of infection (FOI) is an essential part of planning cost effective control strategies for zoonotic diseases. Echinococcus multilocularis is the causative agent of alveolar echinococcosis in humans, a serious disease with a high fatality rate and an increasing global spread. Red foxes are high prevalence hosts of E. multilocularis. Through a mathematical modelling approach, using field data collected from in and around the city of Zurich, Switzerland, we find compelling evidence that the FOI is periodic with highly variable amplitude, and, while this amplitude is similar across habitat types, the mean FOI differs markedly between urban and periurban habitats suggesting a considerable risk differential. The FOI, during an annual cycle, ranges from (0.1,0.8) insults (95% CI) in urban habitat in the summer to (9.4, 9.7) (95% CI) in periurban (rural) habitat in winter. Such large temporal and spatial variations in FOI suggest that control strategies are optimal when tailored to local FOI dynamics.
Author Summary
Human alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is caused by the fox tapeworm E. multilocularis and has a high fatality rate if untreated. The frequency of the tapeworm in foxes can be reduced through the regular distribution of anthelmintic baits and thus decrease the risk of zoonotic transmission. Here, we estimate the force of infection to foxes using a mathematical model and data from necropsied foxes. The results suggest that the frequency of anthelmintic baiting of foxes can be optimised to local variations in transmission that depend upon season and type of fox habitat.
PMCID: PMC3961194  PMID: 24651596
3.  Uneven Large-Scale Movement Patterns in Wild and Reintroduced Pre-Adult Bearded Vultures: Conservation Implications 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65857.
After the quasi-extinction of much of the European vertebrate megafauna during the last few centuries, many reintroduction projects seek to restore decimated populations. However, the future of numerous species depends on the management scenarios of metapopulations where the flow of individuals can be critical to ensure their viability. This is the case of the bearded vulture Gypaetus barbatus, an Old World, large body-sized and long-lived scavenger living in mountain ranges. Although persecution in Western Europe restrained it to the Pyrenees, the species is nowadays present in other mountains thanks to reintroduction projects. We examined the movement patterns of pre-adult non-breeding individuals born in the wild population of the Pyrenees (n = 9) and in the reintroduced populations of the Alps (n = 24) and Andalusia (n = 13). Most birds were equipped with GPS-GSM radio transmitters, which allowed accurate determination of individual dispersal patterns. Two estimators were considered: i) step length (i.e., the distance travelled per day by each individual, calculated considering only successive days); and ii) total dispersal distance (i.e., the distance travelled between each mean daily location and the point of release). Both dispersal estimators showed a positive relationship with age but were also highly dependent on the source population, birds in Andalusia and Alps moving farther than in Pyrenees. Future research should confirm if differences in dispersal distances are the rule, in which case the dynamics of future populations would be strongly influenced. In summary, our findings highlight that inter-population differences can affect the flow of individuals among patches (a key aspect to ensure the viability of the European metapopulation of the endangered bearded vulture), and thus should be taken into account when planning reintroduction programs. This result also raises questions about whether similar scenarios may occur in other restoration projects of European megafauna.
PMCID: PMC3679195  PMID: 23776559
4.  Spatio-temporal occurrence of Culicoides biting midges in the climatic regions of Switzerland, along with large scale species identification by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry 
Parasites & Vectors  2012;5:246.
Culicoides biting midges are incriminated as biological vectors of a number of viruses, e.g. bluetongue virus. In order to define vector-free periods/areas and to assess the vectorial role of the various Culicoides species, a comprehensive knowledge on their spatio-temporal occurrence is required.
Biting midges were monitored on farm sites with livestock in the defined climatic regions, including high altitudes, of Switzerland by overnight trapping at 12 locations once a week over three years using UV-light traps. Based on morphological features, they were separated into three groups (i.e. Obsoletus, Pulicaris, other Culicoides spp.), and identification to the species level was achieved by protein profiling using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry.
Around 550,000 biting midges in total were collected, revealing a dominance (82 to 99%) of the Obsoletus group species up to an altitude of 1,200 m and of the Pulicaris group species above 1,500 m (85% at the highest trapping site at 2,130 m). The maximum number of midges collected in a summer night (756 to 19,682) as well as the total number of midges caught over three years (from 6,933 to 149,439) varied highly among the sites, whereas the annual variation in total midge abundance at the locations was statistically insignificant. MALDI-TOF MS of 100 randomly selected individual biting midges per trapping site yielded high quality spectra for 1,187 of the 1,200 (98.9%) specimens of which 1,173 could be assigned to one of the 15 Culicoides species for which biomarker mass sets are available in the reference database.
There are no biting midge-free zones in all of the agriculturally utilized areas (including alpine summer pastures) of Switzerland. Annual variations of midge numbers at the sampled locations were low, indicating that monitoring of midges should preferably be done by investigating a large number of sites for one season instead of few locations for extended periods of time. High throughput species identification of midges by MALDI-TOF MS is feasible, and this technique adds to other recently developed methods for the identification of midges (PCRs in various formats, interactive identification keys), facilitating epidemiological and biological in-depth studies of these important insects.
PMCID: PMC3503604  PMID: 23111100
Culicoides; Biting midge; Vectors; Obsoletus group; Pulicaris group; Species identification; MALDI-TOF MS; Monitoring; Abundance; Climatic region
5.  Age, season and spatio-temporal factors affecting the prevalence of Echinococcus multilocularis and Taenia taeniaeformis in Arvicola terrestris 
Taenia taeniaeformis and the related zoonotic cestode Echinococcus multilocularis both infect the water vole Arvicola terrestris. We investigated the effect of age, spatio-temporal and season-related factors on the prevalence of these parasites in their shared intermediate host. The absolute age of the voles was calculated based on their eye lens weights, and we included the mean day temperature and mean precipitation experienced by each individual as independent factors.
Overall prevalences of E. multilocularis and T. taeniaeformis were 15.1% and 23.4%, respectively, in 856 A. terrestris trapped in the canton Zürich, Switzerland. Prevalences were lower in young (≤ 3 months: E. multilocularis 7.6%, T. taeniaeformis 17.9%) than in older animals (>7 months: 32.6% and 34.8%). Only 12 of 129 E. multilocularis-infected voles harboured protoscoleces. Similar proportions of animals with several strobilocerci were found in T. taeniaeformis infected voles of <5 months and ≥5 months of age (12.8% and 11.9%). Multivariate analyses revealed strong spatio-temporal variations in prevalences of E. multilocularis. In one trapping area, prevalences varied on an exceptional high level of 40.6-78.5% during the whole study period. Low temperatures significantly correlated with the infection rate whereas precipitation was of lower importance. Significant spatial variations in prevalences were also identified for Taenia taeniaeformis. Although the trapping period and the meteorological factors temperature and precipitation were included in the best models for explaining the infection risk, their effects were not significant for this parasite.
Our results demonstrate that, besides temporal and spatial factors, low temperatures contribute to the risk of infection with E. multilocularis. This suggests that the enhanced survival of E. multilocularis eggs under cold weather conditions determines the level of infection pressure on the intermediate hosts and possibly also the infection risk for human alveolar echincoccosis (AE). Therefore, interventions against the zoonotic cestode E. multilocularis by deworming foxes may be most efficient if conducted just before and during winter.
PMCID: PMC3033848  PMID: 21247427
6.  Molecular Investigations of Rickettsia helvetica Infection in Dogs, Foxes, Humans, and Ixodes Ticks▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2009;75(10):3230-3237.
Rickettsia helvetica, a tick-borne member of the spotted-fever-group rickettsiae, is a suspected pathogen in humans; however, its role in animals is unknown. The aims of this study were to establish a R. helvetica-specific real-time TaqMan PCR assay and apply it to the analysis of tick vectors (to determine potential exposure risk) and blood samples from Canidae and humans (to determine prevalence of infection). The newly designed 23S rRNA gene assay for R. helvetica was more sensitive than a published citrate synthase gene (gltA) assay for several rickettsiae. Blood samples from 884 dogs, 58 foxes, and 214 human patients and 2,073 ticks (Ixodes spp.) collected from either vegetation or animals were analyzed. Although the maximal likelihood estimate of prevalence was 12% in unfed ticks and 36% in ticks collected from animals, none of the 1,156 blood samples tested PCR positive. Ticks from cats were more frequently PCR positive than ticks from dogs. Sequencing of the 23S rRNA and/or the gltA gene of 17 tick pools confirmed the presence of R. helvetica. Additionally, Rickettsia monacensis, which has not been previously found in Switzerland, was identified. In conclusion, R. helvetica was frequently detected in the tick population but not in blood samples. Nevertheless, due to the broad host range of Ixodes ticks and the high rate of infestation with this agent (i.e., R. helvetica was 13 times more frequent in unfed ticks than the tick-borne encephalitis virus), many mammals may be exposed to R. helvetica. The PCR assay described here represents an important tool for studying this topic.
PMCID: PMC2681666  PMID: 19329665
7.  Control Strategy for Echinococcus multilocularis 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2008;14(10):1626-1628.
Echinococcus multilocularis, the causative agent of zoonotic alveolar echinococcosis, can be controlled effectively by the experimental delivery of anthelminthic baits for urban foxes. Monthly baiting over a 45-month period was effective for long-lasting control. Trimonthly baiting intervals were far less effective and did not prevent parasite recovery.
PMCID: PMC2609876  PMID: 18826831
Control; Echinococcus multilocularis; praziquantel; urbanization; vulpes; dispatch
8.  Survey of public knowledge about Echinococcus multilocularis in four European countries: Need for proactive information 
BMC Public Health  2008;8:247.
Public information about prevention of zoonoses should be based on the perceived problem by the public and should be adapted to regional circumstances. Growing fox populations have led to increasing concern about human alveolar echinococcosis, which is caused by the fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis. In order to plan information campaigns, public knowledge about this zoonotic tapeworm was assessed.
By means of representative telephone interviews (N = 2041), a survey of public knowledge about the risk and the prevention of alveolar echinococcosis was carried out in the Czech Republic, France, Germany and Switzerland in 2004.
For all five questions, significant country-specific differences were found. Fewer people had heard of E. multilocularis in the Czech Republic (14%) and France (18%) compared to Germany (63%) and Switzerland (70%). The same effect has been observed when only high endemic regions were considered (Czech Republic: 20%, France: 17%, Germany: 77%, Switzerland: 61%). In France 17% of people who knew the parasite felt themselves reasonably informed. In the other countries, the majority felt themselves reasonably informed (54–60%). The percentage that perceived E. multilocularis as a high risk ranged from 12% (Switzerland) to 43% (France). In some countries promising measures as deworming dogs (Czech Republic, Switzerland) were not recognized as prevention options.
Our results and the actual epidemiological circumstances of AE call for proactive information programs. This communication should enable the public to achieve realistic risk perception, give clear information on how people can minimize their infection risk, and prevent exaggerated reactions and anxiety.
PMCID: PMC2522376  PMID: 18644138
9.  Real-Time PCR Investigation of Potential Vectors, Reservoirs, and Shedding Patterns of Feline Hemotropic Mycoplasmas▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2007;73(12):3798-3802.
Three hemotropic mycoplasmas have been identified in pet cats: Mycoplasma haemofelis, “Candidatus Mycoplasma haemominutum,” and “Candidatus Mycoplasma turicensis.” The way in which these agents are transmitted is largely unknown. Thus, this study aimed to investigate fleas, ticks, and rodents as well as saliva and feces from infected cats for the presence of hemotropic mycoplasmas, to gain insight into potential transmission routes for these agents. DNA was extracted from arthropods and from rodent blood or tissue samples from Switzerland and from salivary and fecal swabs from two experimentally infected and six naturally infected cats. All samples were analyzed with real-time PCR, and some positive samples were confirmed by sequencing. Feline hemotropic mycoplasmas were detected in cat fleas and in a few Ixodes sp. and Rhipicephalus sp. ticks collected from animals but not in ticks collected from vegetation or from rodent samples, although the latter were frequently Mycoplasma coccoides PCR positive. When shedding patterns of feline hemotropic mycoplasmas were investigated, “Ca. Mycoplasma turicensis” DNA was detected in saliva and feces at the early but not at the late phase of infection. M. haemofelis and “Ca. Mycoplasma haemominutum” DNA was not amplified from saliva and feces of naturally infected cats, despite high hemotropic mycoplasma blood loads. Our results suggest that besides an ostensibly indirect transmission by fleas, direct transmission through saliva and feces at the early phase of infection could play a role in the epizootiology of feline hemotropic mycoplasmas. Neither the investigated tick nor the rodent population seems to represent a major reservoir for feline hemotropic mycoplasmas in Switzerland.
PMCID: PMC1932730  PMID: 17468284
10.  Age- and sex-dependent distribution of persistent organochlorine pollutants in urban foxes. 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2003;111(13):1608-1612.
The colonization of urban and suburban habitats by red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) provides a novel sentinel species to monitor the spread of anthropogenic pollutants in densely populated human settlements. Here, red foxes were collected in the municipal territory of Zürich, Switzerland, and their perirenal adipose tissue was examined for persistent organochlorine residues. This pilot study revealed an unexpected pattern of contamination by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), with significantly higher levels of the predominant congeners PCB-138, PCB-153, and PCB-180 in juvenile foxes relative to adult animals. Further data analysis demonstrated that the observed difference was attributable to an age-dependent reduction of PCB concentrations in females, whereas male foxes retained approximately the same PCB burden throughout their life span. A similar sex-related bias between population members has been observed, primarily in marine mammals. Interestingly, the reduction of organochlorine contents with progressive age is reminiscent of human studies, where an extensive maternal transfer of xenobiotics to the offspring has been shown to result in increased exposure levels of infants relative to adults. To our knowledge, this is the first example of an urban wildlife species that faithfully reflects the dynamic distribution of toxic contaminants in the corresponding human population. Suburban and urban foxes occupy habitats in close proximity to humans, depend on anthropogenic food supplies, are relatively long-lived and readily available for sampling, can be easily aged and sexed, have a limited home range, and, therefore, meet several important requirements to serve as a surrogate species for the assessment of toxic health hazards.
PMCID: PMC1241682  PMID: 14527839
11.  Anthelmintic Baiting of Foxes against Urban Contamination with Echinococcus multilocularis 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2003;9(10):1266-1272.
In recent years, increases in the urban fox population have been observed in many countries of the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, Echinococcus multilocularis has entered the urban environment. Because of a possible increased risk for alveolar echinococcosis, intervention strategies need to be evaluated. In Zürich, Switzerland, 50 praziquantel-containing baits per km2 were distributed monthly in six 1-km2 bait areas and one 6-km2 bait area from April 2000 through October 2001. The proportion of E. multilocularis coproantigen–positive fox fecal samples collected remained unchanged in six control areas but decreased significantly in the 1-km2 bait areas (from 38.6% to 5.5%) and in the 6-km2 bait area (from 66.7% to 1.8%). E. multilocularis prevalence in the intermediate host Arvicola terrestris also decreased significantly in baited areas. This controlled baiting study shows that a pronounced reduction of E. multilocularis egg contamination is feasible in urban areas where the organism is highly endemic.
PMCID: PMC3033062  PMID: 14609462

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