Featured paper: New study from Edinburgh Infectious Diseases has significant implications for tick control in Sub-Saharan Africa

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases researchers from Sue Welburn’s group in the Division of Pathway Medicine have recently published results which have significant implications for the control of ticks and tick-borne disease in west Africa. 

The paper, Ixodid ticks of traditionally managed cattle in central Nigeria: where Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus does not dare (yet?), was published in the Journal of Parasites and Vectors.

Ticks are blood-feeding arthropods of medical and veterinary importance.  In livestock, tick infestation alone can cause anaemia, reduction in milk yields, depreciation of hide value, and a general inability to thrive.  Moreover, ticks are vectors so-called tick-borne diseases (TBDs), that affect animals as well as humans.  In sub-Saharan Africa several TBDs - such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, cowdriosis, and theileriosis - seriously impair cattle health and productivity.

Left:  Young Fulani herders from the Jos Plateau removing ticks manually from their cattle. Right:  Co-infestation by two different tick species (Amblyomma variegatum and Hyalomma truncatum) on the udder of cattle on the Jos Plateau, Nigeria. Such condition can hinder the suckling of calves.

In the Jos Plateau area of central Nigeria the livelihoods of the local pastoralist communities rely heavily on the welfare of their livestock.  Here, the vast majority of the cattle population is kept under the traditional husbandry of the Fulani herders.  In this context, ticks represent a serious hazard to cattle, and the herders manually remove them from cattle up to three times a week during the wet season when the infestation is greatest. 

At the start of this research programme, several tick genera were known to co-infest cattle in Nigeria.  However detailed knowledge of these infestations, essential for devising effective control measures, was lacking.  The aim of this new work was to document the number and infestation rates of tick species infesting cattle in central Nigeria, during the wet season.

During the course of this new study, researchers collected over 5000 individual ticks from infested cattle, and identified 11 separate tick species, most of which are of great veterinary importance.  Significantly the team did not find the highly harmful and invasive species Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus suggesting that it has not yet spread to central Nigeria from Ivory Coast and Benin. 

Lorusso et al also found high rates of tick infestation, indicating that the traditional control methods used by the local pastoralists are of limited efficacy.  These findings will therefore be invaluable when next designing targeted control interventions for this area, ensuring the complementarity with the traditional practices, to improve livestock health and productivity on the Jos Plateau.

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