Between September 6th and 13th I was fortunate to attend the 3rd edition of the Parasitology Summer Course (ParSCo) held at the stunning Basilicata region, southern Italy. The course was led by Drs. Domenico Otranto (University of Bari, Italy) and Filipe Dantas-Torres (Aggeu Magalhães Research Institute, Recife-Brazil). Various lectures, laboratory and practical activities were given by an outstanding group of parasitologists, molecular biologists, and veterinarians with the Parasitology & Micology Unit of the Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari; and Dr. Emanuele Brianti (University of Messina). The course was co-sponsored by Bayer Health Care- Animal Health and Merial, with the participation of the SOIPA (Società Italiana de Parassitologia) and the scientific journal Parasites & Vectors, and is part of the Residency Program of the European Veterinary Parasitology College (EVPC).
The main goal of this intense week-long course is to provide updated information on the biology and ecology of arthropod vectors and vector-borne pathogens relevant to the Mediterranean area. For this, the Basilicata region (neighbouring province) was the perfect scenery, as it offers suitable conditions for optimal development of various arthropods and also counts with a rich biodiversity of hosts and parasites! Despite an apparent European focus many of these pathogens are common in many regions (or are expanding due to climate change) and are of veterinary and public health concern globally. This edition had a very diverse group of 13 attendees, of 9 different nationalities, with institutional links with academia or industry in 11 countries in Europe, South and North America, Oceania and the Middle East.
Upon my arrival in Bari, capital of the Apulia province (and after 2 delayed and 1 cancelled flights… and no luggage for the first three days), I headed to Dr. Otranto’s residence in Torre a Mare for the welcome dinner and social mingling, where I started to learn some useful (or not) expressions in Italian and Barese dialect. Saturday morning, we headed to Basilicata and the course activities started just after lunch.
Activities were very dynamic and involved oral lectures (36%) covering aspects of the vectors (ticks, sand flies, Phortica variegata, etc) and their transmitted pathogens (various hemoparasites, Cercopithifilaria spp., Leishmania infantum, Thelazia callipaeda, Onchocerca lupi, etc), including their biology, epidemiology, and diagnosis (combining classical and molecular approaches in parasitology) and practical activities (64%). These were conducted within and around the Parco Regionale di Gallipoli Cognato Piccole Dolomite Lucane (what a long name!), and besides the above mentioned specialists counted with the participation of Dr. Egidio Mallia, veterinarian responsible for the park. Through this practical component of the course, attendees had the unique opportunity to see various interesting cases of parasitic diseases (in real life!), including canine thelaziosis, necropsies of hybrid cats (domestic x wild) and fox for collection of several lungworms (Aelurostrongylus abstrusus, Troglostrongylus brevior, Eucoleus aerophilus and Crenosoma vulpis), and learned different techniques of environmental collection of arthropods (tick flagging and dragging, CDC traps and sticky paper for flies, and the human bait – aka “catch your own Phortica”). Serendipitously, some extra interesting parasitic cases showed up (sarcoptic mange in a fox, hippoboscid flies in cattle and fallow deer, among others). Another great experience was to perform trapping of migratory bird for ecological studies and collection of tick imported from Africa. Indeed, a parasitologist paradise!
On Thursday, just before dinner, we had a surprise conference call with Dr. Chris Arme, editor of the prestigious Parasites & Vectors, in which we had the opportunity to ask about editorial process, the success the journal reached within a short period, and career opportunities.
In the last afternoon, we had a written exam to evaluate the knowledge acquired throughout the course and as a pre-requisite to receive the final certificate, as expected for EVPC residency programmes.
Yes… it was an intense week. But we also had fun. The food was simply amazing – balanced breakfasts with Nutella, ‘light’ lunches that were a festival of Italian delicacies, and dinner – which could spend pages describing how good it was), and with some good wine, limoncello, and amaro lucano for several toasts! All of these made us consume copious amounts of the strong Italian coffee to follow the non-stop activities throughout the week!
Fortunately, there was still time for some tourism! We visited some villages in the surroundings: Oliveto Lucano (for a post-field work pit stop to eat biscuits – ‘taralli’), the marvellous Matera and its caves – and pizza and ice cream, of course – (UNESCO World Heritage Site, where The Passion of the Christ was filmed), the picturesque Castelmezzano (with its deserved slogan: “one of the most beautiful villages in Italy”) and Pietrapertosa, where the most courageous of us had an adrenaline boost taking a zip line ride called “Volo dell’Angelo” (literally, the flight of the angel).
After the course, I spent half Saturday and Sunday doing some tourism in Bari walking around the Città vecchia (old town) and eating some more, before spending two days working in the Otranto lab. There, after an early bus ride to Valenzano (where the Vet campus is located) I helped the two PhD students (and friends) Drs. Alessio Giannelli and Rafael Ramos with experiments recovering metastrongyloid lungworm larvae (A. abstrusus and T. brevior) from snails, and interacting with the rest of the group. It was a great to exchange our parasitological experiences (and I learned how to anesthetize snails using menthol). In the evenings, more food in Sammichele di Bari (this time lots of meat) and gelato in Casamassima! Grazie mille, ragazze!
Finally, the III ParSCo was an amazing experience, in which we interacted and learned from a capable group of parasitologists willing to share their knowledge and experience in different aspects of parasitology and vector-borne diseases. Therefore, I strongly recommend young parasitologists with interest in vector-borne diseases to consider attending the following editions, including those from UofC! With no doubt, the course is a great environment for broadening our professional network; strengthen existing collaborations and fostering new ones… and perché no… making new friends!
No flight delays or cancellations in my way back, but also with no luggage, which I got only this Sunday (4 days after).
Best regards and… Felicità!
Guilherme G. Verocai, DVM, MSc.
PhD Candidate (Kutz Lab), Department of Ecosystem and Public Health Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my sponsors the UCVM ‘Eyes High – Raise your Game’ and Alberta Innovates Health Solutions for covering the costs of my attendance.