PRESS RELEASE: OFFLU experts tackle animal flu worldwide
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19 November 2010 - Animal influenza viruses continue to threaten animal health, public health, food security and livelihoods. H5N1 avian influenza remains endemic in several regions of the world, other strains of the virus continue to circulate in several animal species, and recent history tells us that it is simply a matter of time before the next pandemic virus emerges from the animal population. To discuss ways of tackling these viruses the world’s leading influenza scientists from OFFLU (OIE-FAO network of expertise on animal influenza) and from the public health sector, including WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), met in Rome, Italy (16-17 November).
The meeting focussed on identifying priorities for research and further actions to improve and coordinate global surveillance and control. Scientists from over 30 countries and from several fields of expertise including equine, swine, avian, and human influenza shared their latest experiences, ideas, and research findings.
This was also an opportunity to highlight OFFLU’s successes to date which include providing global guidance on surveillance, control, and biosafety; helping individual countries to develop effective avian influenza vaccination strategies; and rapidly responding to pandemic H1N1 to provide urgent technical advice on aspects at the human-animal interface.
OFFLU––echoing the voices of FAO, OIE and WHO––continues to strongly advocate for purposeful, strategic and effective surveillance of animal influenzas worldwide and to this end has developed an OFFLU surveillance strategy.
The meeting in Rome was important for both animal and human health sectors and a number of joint WHO-OFFLU projects were launched. Experts from both animal and public health agreed to collaborate on a landmark initiative to look at ways of predicting emerging threats by examining genetic sequences of viruses collected through global animal influenza surveillance. Gaps in surveillance mean that questions about the exact origins of pandemic H1N1 remain unanswered.
Other notable outputs from the meeting include an OFFLU influenza research agenda for equine, swine, poultry and wild birds; a mechanism for global coordination of swine influenza surveillance; a worldwide proficiency testing network; an expert group to monitor virus mutations; a road map for improved capacity building; and ways to improve effective use of vaccines.
Professor Steve Edwards, Chairman of OFFLU, said: “As veterinarians we have two concerns, the first is to protect the health and wellbeing of animals and the second is to ensure that diseases in animals do not harm people. There is no doubt that influenza will continue to threaten poultry, other livestock and companion animals, as well as circulating in wildlife, particularly wild birds. Through the OFFLU network we are gaining a better handle on how these viruses are circulating and evolving, and we have increasingly powerful tools to detect and analyse these trends. Above all, we can now give better and more informed advice than ever before to our public health colleagues as they develop prevention and control plans for influenza in human populations.”
OFFLU and its partners continue to reduce the negative impacts of animal influenza viruses around the world by promoting effective collaboration across animal and public health sectors.
FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
OIE - World Organisation for Animal Health
WHO - World Health Organisation
OFFLU - OIE/FAO joint network of expertise on animal influenza
CDC - US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention