Arthropods, such as mosquitoes, midges and ticks, can pass disease to humans when they bite, which includes infections caused by viruses. Most such infections are usually found in the tropics, but a changing climate and globalisation means their range has spread at an alarming rate. Europe and the Americas, once confident in their isolation from substantial epidemics are now at risk, as witnessed by the recent spread of viruses such as chikungunya and dengue. Therefore it’s important we understand how these viruses spread and cause disease, so that we can develop treatments and better predict how future outbreaks unfold. Together our work seeks to understand the complex and fascinating biological interaction between biting mosquitoes, the viruses that they carry and their mammalian hosts. We have recently shown that mosquito bite inflammation inadvertently help viruses when they are transmitted by mosquitoes. We are studying how the immune system responds to both mosquito bites and to virus infection. We are also very keen to discover how viruses spread from mosquito bite sites to the blood and other other tissues, such as the brain and joints, where viruses can cause severe disease. An example of this is the chikungunya virus that can get into joints and cause exceptionally painful arthritis. Another example is the West Nile virus which can infect the brain, where it causes an often lethal encephalitis. We strive to better understand how these viruses cause disease, and to develop new ways that prevent or alleviate the suffering they cause. In doing so we hope that our work will be useful to fellow scientists, health professionals, drug companies and policy makers who together help shape our response to these dangerous epidemics.
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Pictures by our PhD student Steven Bryden