Spatial modeling helps identify anthrax risk to livestock in Kazakhstan

Researchers, Ian Kracalik and Jason Blackburn, from the Spatial Epidemiology & Ecology Research Laboratory (SEER Lab) and members of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, have co-authored a paper in the Journal Geospatial Health on the spatial patterns of livestock anthrax in Kazakhstan.

SEER Lab partnered with the Kazakh Science Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases and the Scientific and Practical Center of Sanitary and Epidemiological Expertise and Monitoring, both within the Kazakh Ministry of Health in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

As part of this study, the team developed predictions of areas at high risk for anthrax outbreaks in cattle. These calculations combine environmental predictions and data on the spatial clustering – or local geographic concentrations – of livestock outbreaks. Previous work from SEER Lab has focused on predicting the geographic potential for Bacillus anthracis, the pathogen causing anthrax, by using ecological niche models in the US and Kazakhstan. Ecological niche models predict the geographic potential of the pathogen based on environmental conditions. By the nature of niche modeling, they expect those predictions to be broader than where they find the disease to be clustering, as those patterns will be driven by local conditions and agricultural practices.

In this paper, the modeling was limited to ecological variables, but was designed to predict disease clustering.

This is one of the first and few studies to define high risk areas for this disease. While the disease is infamous as a biological weapon, anthrax is a regularly occurring livestock disease in many parts of the world with frequent spillover into humans across Central Asia. Because of this, surveillance is critical in providing estimates of where to expect disease to provide the first step in better directing resources for monitoring and control. Endemic anthrax is a summertime disease in the mid northern latitudes, and livestock control is achieved through regular and timely vaccination.

These results can be used to inform any veterinary public health in Kazakhstan, to identify key areas for vaccine intervention during spring time months ahead of summer outbreaks.

This research was supported by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Cooperative Biological Engagement Program. For more information on this study, contact Jason Blackburn at 352-273-9374 orjkblackburn@ufl.edu.