Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Host of Problems

Great gerbils host leishmaniasis and plague vectors so treating them with insecticide could help control these diseases

22 August 2018

Host of Problems

Zoonotic diseases, transmitted between animals and humans, present a special challenge, as they must be tackled in their animal hosts to prevent reinfection of humans. In Central Asia, the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus; pictured) is the principal animal reservoir for cutaneous leishmaniasis, a skin condition induced by the protozoan Leishmania major, passed between hosts by phlebotomine sand flies, and for plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and spread by fleas. While different pathogens and insect vectors are involved, acting on gerbil populations provides an opportunity to control both diseases. Gerbil burrows are often dusted with insecticide to keep sand flies and fleas in check, but more targeted and cost-effective alternatives are required. Recent trials suggest that placing baits containing low doses of insecticide, to be ingested by the rodents, around the burrows successfully reduces the numbers of insect vectors, especially fleas, offering a promising new method for disease control.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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