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Type: Journal article
Title: Modeling the epidemiological history of plague in Central Asia: palaeoclimatic forcing on a disease system over the past millennium
Author: Kausrud, K.L.
Begon, M.
Ben Ari, T.
Viljugrein, H.
Esper, J.
Buntgen, U.
Leirs, H.
Junge, C.
Yang, B.
Yang, M.
Xu, L.
Stenseth, N.C.
Citation: BMC Biology, 2010; 8(1):112-1-112-14
Publisher: BioMed Central
Issue Date: 2010
ISSN: 1741-7007
Statement of
Kyrre Linné Kausrud, Mike Begon, Tamara Ben Ari, Hildegunn Viljugrein, Jan Esper, Ulf Büntgen, Herwig Leirs, Claudia Junge, Bao Yang, Meixue Yang, Lei Xu and Nils Chr Stenseth
Abstract: 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.
Keywords: Animals
Yersinia pestis
Rodent Diseases
Disease Reservoirs
Population Density
Models, Biological
History, 20th Century
Asia, Central
Rights: © 2010 Kausrud et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
DOI: 10.1186/1741-7007-8-112
Appears in Collections:Aurora harvest 7
Earth and Environmental Sciences publications

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