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£1.5m funding for new avian influenza research consortium

An avian influenza outbreak

DEFRA has announced an eight-strong consortium of research institutes that will work together on new ways to manage avian influenza.

The new team, led by the APHA, has received £1.5 million from the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Defra and has been tasked with developing new strategies to tackle future bird flu outbreaks.

See also: ‘Thousands’ of wild birds succumbing to avian influenza around Scotland’s coast

It is hoped the consortium will be able to find new ways to contain future outbreaks, and will focus on building understanding in a number of key areas, including:

  • What it is about the current virus strains that help them to form larger and longer outbreaks
  • Understanding transmission and infection in different bird populations, including how the virus transmits from wild birds to farmed poultry, the gaps in biosecurity that allow the virus to penetrate premises, and how this could be addressed
  • Mapping and modelling the spread of infection over time and across species
  • Why some birds, such as ducks, are more resistant to bird flu strains
  • Developing models to predict how the viruses will evolve and spread in the future

UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: “This new consortium will allow us to combine our expertise at a national level to increase the speed and quality of our research, ensuring we can develop new strategies to aid our efforts against this insidious disease and hopefully in time reduce the impact on the poultry sector.”

Professor Ian Brown, APHA’s Head of Virology and project manager, added: “This investment in a new research consortium will bring together the greatest minds from eight world-leading British institutions to address gaps in our understanding of bird flu, helping us to control the spread of the disease, while furthering UK animal health science and ensuring we maintain our world-leading reputation in the field.”

‘Devastating’

NFU poultry board chair James Mottershead welcomed the news. “After the largest AI outbreak the UK has ever seen this year, it’s good to see the government taking a positive step to help the industry tackle the disease in the future.

“AI has been devastating for so many poultry farmers across the country, causing great distress emotionally, mentally and financially for farming families.

“We want to work with the government to minimise the impacts of any future AI outbreaks so we do not experience another year like this one.