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Department of Veterinary Medicine

Cambridge Veterinary School

Studying at Cambridge


James Lester

James Lester

Supervisor - Dr Simon Frost

Emerging disease transmission in Western Uganda


By background, I’m a biologist with a great interest in infectious disease epidemiology, and this interest heavily influenced me throughout my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences (Biological) here at the University of Cambridge. Over the course of my degree I developed a particular interest in the utilisation of disease modelling, which translated through to both my final year project, which was concerned with comparing different approaches to simulating patterns of disease transmission, and my present work. I am currently in the 3rd year of my PhD, working in association with the Kibale EcoHealth Project to study patterns of human disease around Kibale National Park in Western Uganda.

Subject groups/Research projects

Infection and Immunity:
Mathematical Biology:

Research Interests

Disease surveillance

A particular focus of my work has been upon the use of syndromic surveillance data, that is, symptom data gathered prior to, or on the absence of medical diagnosis. Whilst typically used in the developed world to provide rapid indications of outbreaks and unusual patterns of disease, its flexibility and simplicity makes it highly attractive for surveillance in the developing world. Much of my work has focussed upon how to analyse this rich, but often very noisy form of data, as well as how to implement low-cost approaches to symptom surveillance, such as participants reporting using their own mobile phones.

Emerging zoonotic disease

Another important aspect of my work pertains to understanding the factors involved in, and potential consequences of human-non-human primate contact occurring in and around Kibale National Park for emerging zoonotic (animal origin) disease. Whilst there is a tendency to think of cross-species transmission of diseases as devastating and rare events, typified by events such as the emergence of HIV-1, SARS or Ebola into the human population, these likely represent an overwhelming minority of such events. The majority likely lead to either non-viable, or non-transmissible infections in humans, with occasional short chains of transmission which may go undetected, highlighting a crucial shortcoming in the typically reactive response to the risk of zoonoses. With contact between humans and non-human primates relatively common around Kibale, exposure to primate diseases is a frequent possibility, and by better understanding patterns of disease and transmission within both primate and human populations, we may be able to better appreciate the risks, and potential consequences of zoonotic transmission here.


  • Emerging diseases
  • Epidemiology
  • Infectious disease dynamics
  • Emerging viral diseases
  • Zoonoses
  • Dynamics
  • Infectious Diseases