A team of team of University of Maine researchers has been awarded $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation to examine the relationships among the spread of mosquito-transmitted diseases, perceptions of mosquito-borne disease risk and human travel, including domestic and international tourism.
The five-year project, “Coupled Dynamics of Tourism and Mosquito-Borne Disease Transmission in the Americas,” is being led by Allison Gardner, an assistant professor of arthropod vector biology, and Sandra De Urioste-Stone, an assistant professor of nature-based tourism.
"It is important to understand how humans select and use diverse information to make travel and business decisions that might have an effect on disease transmission.” Sandra De Urioste-Stone
The project aims to understand the role of human mobility in the dispersal of mosquito-borne viruses across a range of spatial scales. The team also will look at how infectious disease outbreaks influence the travel decisions of individuals and marketing strategies of tourism businesses, as well as how changes in human mobility in response to epidemics and marketing might alter outbreak paths — a potential feedback between natural and human components of the system.
Travel of infected humans has the potential to spark global epidemics of mosquito-borne diseases, according to the researchers, who cite outbreaks in the Americas following the first detection of chikungunya and Zika viruses in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
“Human activities already have led to the globalization of many important disease-vector mosquitoes,” Gardner says. “The range expansion of these mosquito species, combined with a degree of human connectivity unprecedented in human history, has created a landscape that greatly facilitates the emergence and re-emergence of arthropod-borne viruses.
Using the introduction and spread of Zika and chikungunya in the Americas as case studies, the project will generate new scientific understanding of the coupled dynamics of mosquito-borne disease transmission and tourism.
Other researchers involved in the study are Brandon Lieberthal, a postdoc in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology at UMaine; and Brian Allan, Shaowen Wang, Aiman Soliman and Andrew Mackay at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.