research overview

My research program addresses questions of critical public and veterinary health importance related to emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) and zoonoses,  production-limiting diseases of agricultural animals, and "One Health". I am especially interested in research that addresses the following specific objectives:

1) To determine the effect and relative importance of host heterogeneity and contact network structure on the introduction and spread of communicable diseases

2) To evaluate the impact and relative effectiveness of different interventions in community/farm settings according to the variability in hosts, network structure, and exposures. 

Emerging infectious diseases and zoonoses

1) Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in dromedary camels in Egypt.

Dromedary camels have been implicated as the zoonotic source and reservoir of MERS-CoV. However, we have only a limited understanding of the dynamics of MERS-CoV in the camel population, and ultimately how those dynamics influence the zoonotic risk of transmission. Preliminary insights into this host-pathogen system suggest that the natural history parameters for the pathogen in the camel reservoir may be much more variable and complex than previously thought. Important differences may be related to our assumptions about the role of immunity and re-infection.

Funding: Canada Research Chairs program

Key collaborators: Dr. Emma Gardner (PhD Candidate),  Dr. David Kelton (University of Guelph) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

2) Multi-strain dynamics of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

Funding: Canada Research Chairs program 

Key collaborators: Meagan Coffey (MSc thesis student), and Dr. Hermann Eberl (University of Guelph)

diseases of agriculturally important animals

1) Equine network structure and opportunities and challenges for the spread of communicable diseases

We are currently conducting a variety of studies focused on describing the ways in which horses contact one another both at their home facilities and when they are travelling off-site to attend competitions and/or participate in other activities. These are the first studies of this type in Canada. Data collected will help to inform more effective biosecurity planning and implementation of disease prevention and control strategies. We are using OpenBeacon hardware for some of our equine data collection. 

Funding:  Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)

Key Collaborators: Rachael Milwid (PhD student), and  Dr. Terri O'Sullivan (University of Guelph)

2) Using simulation models to examine foreign animal disease risk to Ontario swine

Foreign animal disease (FAD) introductions are rare events in North America; however, the impact would be devastating. Outbreaks in economically valuable animal populations have social and economic costs, and erode consumer confidence in food products. Managing a FAD event within a resource-constrained system represents an important challenge since many of the required interventions involve depopulation. FAD outbreaks are particularly important because of the direct impact on production and also because of the destruction of healthy animals due to welfare slaughter, lost exports to trading partners, and the risk of a long-term export ban. Preparation for the response and eradication efforts to address a FAD in the Ontario swine industry requires a better understanding of the scenarios that might occur and careful planning to minimize welfare slaughter. Using a computer simulation approach for the farmed swine population in Ontario, we are simulating the range of possible outcomes that might occur following an introduction of Classical Swine Fever and evaluate intervention strategies to contain the outbreak, and minimize welfare cull. This project will provide Ontario, Canada, and the Ontario swine industry with a set of outcomes that are actionable and supported by the best available evidence. 

Funding: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Canada Research Chairs program

Key Collaborators: Dr. Salah Uddin Khan (postdoctoral fellow)

One Health

1)   Conducting epidemiological analyses to evaluate the magnitude and direction of effects of animal disease and colonization, and environmental factors, on human enteric disease incidence

The emerging One Health paradigm regards human, animal and environmental health as inextricably inter-related, but practical linkages between human and veterinary realms remain limited in Canada and elsewhere. The potential health, food safety, and economic benefits of improved public health intelligence that would result from linkage of human and animal surveillance systems are expected to be large, and data derived from the linkage of existing human and animal surveillance systems could be used to parameterize, calibrate and validate mathematical models of infectious diseases, for risk analysis, evaluation of cost-effectiveness of preventive activities and exploration of areas of uncertainty, which could be prioritized for future research. 

Funding: Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and the Canada Research Chairs Program

Key Collaborators: Gabrielle Brankston (PhD student), Melanie Cousins (MSc thesis student), Roksolana Hovdey (MSc thesis student), and  Dr. David Fisman (University of Toronto)