Toxocara spp. nematodes of dogs and cats cause neurological and other disease in people, including impaired cognitive development. Statistically, impacts fall disproportionately on the poor, both at global and local scales. Knowledge of sources of parasite eggs and factors influencing their infectivity now allow risk to be quantified in a mechanistic way, advancing beyond past correlative approaches. This project will predict zoonotic transmission pathways based on field sampling of Toxocara egg abundance and infectivity across socio-economic gradients in Northern Ireland, and track contact of people with eggs in soil and other substrates. People’s activities will be mapped onto distribution of infective eggs in the environment, to derive risk indices. Intervention studies will evaluate the efficacy of nudge dynamics to reduce egg release into the environment by pet dogs and cats, building on previous work in deprived areas of Bristol (Public Health 2018,165). Outcomes will support new policy recommendations towards equitable health. The model of egg abundance and infectivity will be extended to communities in selected low and medium income countries using secondary data sources, with opportunistic fitting and validation within ongoing research projects in Africa and Asia. Improved control of toxocariasis will support health and sustainable development locally and globally.
Specific skills/experience required by applicants:
The student will require skills in laboratory parasitology, field study design and data handling, and working with the public and policy makers. These will be acquired from training within the project. A willingness to work on both computer modelling and fieldwork, and with people, and aptitude for the same, is essential.
Only UK and EU students are eligible to apply. Information on eligibility criteria is available from DfE: View Website