Modeling the epidemiological history of plague in Central Asia: palaeoclimatic forcing on a disease system over the past millennium
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
BMC biology. - London
, p. 112,1-112,14
University of Antwerp
Background Human cases of plague (Yersinia pestis) infection originate, ultimately, in the bacterium's wildlife host populations. The epidemiological dynamics of the wildlife reservoir therefore determine the abundance, distribution and evolution of the pathogen, which in turn shape the frequency, distribution and virulence of human cases. Earlier studies have shown clear evidence of climatic forcing on contemporary plague abundance in rodents and humans. Results We find that high-resolution palaeoclimatic indices correlate with plague prevalence and population density in a major plague host species, the great gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), over 1949-1995. Climate-driven models trained on these data predict independent data on human plague cases in early 20th-century Kazakhstan from 1904-1948, suggesting a consistent impact of climate on large-scale wildlife reservoir dynamics influencing human epidemics. Extending the models further back in time, we also find correspondence between their predictions and qualitative records of plague epidemics over the past 1500 years. Conclusions Central Asian climate fluctuations appear to have had significant influences on regional human plague frequency in the first part of the 20th century, and probably over the past 1500 years. This first attempt at ecoepidemiological reconstruction of historical disease activity may shed some light on how long-term plague epidemiology interacts with human activity. As plague activity in Central Asia seems to have followed climate fluctuations over the past centuries, we may expect global warming to have an impact upon future plague epidemiology, probably sustaining or increasing plague activity in the region, at least in the rodent reservoirs, in the coming decades.