I am Stella Atim, a third-year MUII-plus PhD student registered at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Makerere University, and I collaborate with researchers at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, UK. My long-term career plan is to be an established scientist involved in capacity building of graduate students, research infrastructure development, and an expert in arboviral research. The PhD training has been a mentorship journey and doing collaborative science, learning to solve a problem through a comprehensive approach. For example, the application of next-generation sequencing for detection of novel and emerging viruses which I am using to provide an insight into virus ecology which could aid strategies for disease control.
Why Crimean- Congo Heamorrhagic Fever (CCHF) Virus
I am enthusiastic about understanding the pattern of infections of Crimean-Congo Haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) virus in the natural setting in Uganda and how this can cause CCHF infections in the animal and human population. This information is pivotal in designing effective control and preventive measures to mitigate huge socio-economic and (or) public health crisis associated with large outbreaks.
CCHF is a severe tick-borne zoonotic disease with a 40% fatality rate in humans and no treatment or vaccine in use so far. Overall, the detection of cases has increased during the past decades, with variation across geographic regions and occupations. The aetiological agent displays the typical rapid mutation rate of single-stranded RNA viruses, is likely to circulate among ticks and animals with the potential of causing severe epidemics in humans. It is a high-consequence infection and recognized as an emerging pathogen and one of the current global health challenges.
Uganda has experienced several outbreaks of CCHF in the past decade with over 30 human cases occurring mainly in the cattle corridor region that stretches diagonally from south western Uganda to the North Eastern border with Kenya. This is worrying because the size of the CCHF reservoir has not been quantified in Uganda; little information is available regarding exposure rates in animals and humans, the competent vector(s), potential reservoirs, and risk factors associated with the infection. This information is critical for public health decisions and to protect those most at risk from the infection.
The preliminary findings suggest a high prevalence of CCHF viral infection circulating in domestic animals and among people, and its geographical range extends well beyond the cattle corridor. In addition to tick bites and contact with tissues and blood of an infected animal, the transmission of CCHF among livestock farmers is possibly influenced by behavioral factors that if addressed could result in a reduction in exposure to the disease.
While the project is in progress the work is already producing benefits; the study community has become more aware of potential tick-borne zoonotic infections, transmission risks, control, and preventive strategies against CCHF infections. We have collected valuable feedback from the interaction with the research community, highlighted the need for harmonizing research as the community is fatigued by a series of researchers collecting the same data and samples without taking back the research findings.
Plans are underway to engage with policymakers and health officials from the study districts, as well as the Ministry of Health and Agriculture to disseminate the key research findings.
In Photo: Stella recording the goats before sampling at one of the goat herds in Kinyogoga Sub-County, Nakaseke District – Uganda.