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IN spite of a promising summer at the time of writing (July 2014), we have had more than our share of wet weather in the UK in recent years, including record rainfall and damaging floods in the winter of 2013/2014. How could all that rain be influencing risks to animal health, especially from diseases such as fasciolosis, which are associated with wet conditions?
It is long established that liver fluke infection risk is largely driven by the prevailing climatic conditions – particularly temperature and rainfall. The past 10 to 15 years in the UK have seen increasing fluke prevalence in livestock (and other animals including alpacas, horses and deer), as well as altered geographical distribution and seasonality of the disease. These changes have been mainly attributed to changing climatic conditions, specifically warmer and wetter springs and summers and milder winters (for example, Kenyon and others 2009, van Dijk and others 2010). Assuming that the dominant seasonal patterns of fluke transmission remain as they have in the past, unprecedented levels of fluke risk have been predicted for the coming decades (Fox and others 2011). However, the dynamics of fluke populations in animals at pasture may change altogether. This is currently being explored by ourselves, using mathematical models of liver fluke epidemiology, as part of the EU-GLOWORM project. Superimposed on these warming, wetting trends, recent climate projections predict an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, for example, summer droughts, heatwaves and winter flooding (IPCC 2013). The extensive flooding of farmland on the Somerset Levels last winter may be a distant memory to some now, but in southwest England, January 2014 was the wettest on record since 1910 (Fig 1). Statistics also showed that this was one of (if not the) most exceptional periods of winter rainfall across …
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