Viruses don’t care about human geographical borders. The coronavirus pandemic made it clear how fast even great distances can be covered by viruses within days. The same is also true for tick-borne diseases and, in particular, for flaviviruses. Tick-borne flaviviruses can move far from their original region carried by wild mammals. Several societal and environmental factors can force deer or other small wild rodents to migrate in more favourable habitats. These animals naturally carry ticks, and along with them, they also carry pathogens including viruses. This makes it clear that borders are only a human need: animals and viruses can cross them easily without leaving traces. Unless they carry pathogens: when this happens, they do leave traces of their passage in human health.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus also showed us the importance of sharing knowledge, and surveillance. Both are pivotal in facing threats to human health. In the tick-borne flaviviruses scenario a constant survey of ticks, pathogens and animals is crucial to monitor how diseases spread in new areas. These activities are much more effective when performed within a framework of international cooperation. The TBFVnet project was established to foster scientific collaboration among research institutes across Europe to study and survey tick-borne flaviviruses. Each partner institute excels in a different field of study of flavivirus biology and distinct expertise can make the difference.
The TBFVnet partner at the Veterinary Research Institute of the Czech Republic is expert in the pathogenesis of Tick-Borne Encephalitis virus and the development and testing of vaccines and antivirals. In Russia, the Chumakov FSC for Research and Development of Immune-and-Biological Products focuses on the surveillance of Eastern strains of TBFV as well as on antivirals and vaccines. Scientists at the Biomedical Research Center of the Slovak Academy of Science study the ecology of new flaviviruses. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health monitors TBFV locally and develops molecular and serological diagnostic tools including sequencing of viral genomes. The partner from Umeå University, Sweden, is expert in the virus-host interactions and neurological aspects of TBFV diseases. Finally, the ICGEB in Italy develops and studies virus-host cell interactions, novel diagnostic and surveillance tools, and antivirals. In addition, the ICGEB is actively involved in expanding this network to neighbouring countries.
Within TBFVnet, partner institutes do their best in sharing protocols and practices to study and survey tick borne flaviviruses. One of the most successful activities are the regular online meetings to present, share and discuss laboratory procedures to produce antibodies, isolate viruses, and other techniques to study tick-borne flaviviruses. The efforts of TBFVnet project go beyond research. The established network is willing to do its part to enhance the benefit for the whole society with a clear vision of the role of science in the knowledge society and economy. Collectively, the partners are able to capitalise on scientific discoveries and basic and applied research. Society can benefit from these efforts thanks to the transfer of these knowledge from research to industry and effective medical applications.