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Roslin to head up EuroPRRSnet

The European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) office will fund a EuroPRRSnet initiative proposed by The Roslin institute, University of Edinburgh. The Roslin Institute has gathered experts from 15 countries and 23 institutions across Europe to understand and combat porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).

The emergence of PRRS, a potent viral disease of pigs, has had a major impact on the health and welfare of pigs throughout the world. Its appearance in Europe in the early 1990s has resulted in a significant increase in the number of early farrowing, late-term abortions, along with increased mortalities in neonates in breeding herds and respiratory disease in nursery and fattening units. Changes in husbandry have lessened the impact of PRRS in herds but incidents of severe disease attributed to this virus regularly occur. More than 20 years since its first emergence, PRRS disease is still having a major impact on pig health and welfare. PRRS accounts for about a third of the cost of infectious disease to the US pig industry, ca. $600 million annually. The detrimental economic impact of PRRS in Europe is currently not quantified, though it is expected to be substantial. Due to a lack of effective control measures in Europe the disease is now endemic in many countries.

The recent discovery that an outbreak of "high fever pig disease" in China was caused by a highly pathogenic, variant strain of the American genotype of the PRRS virus (PRRSV), has caused much consternation. Outbreaks in 2007 in 10 eastern provinces of China are reported to have killed 400,000 of the 2,120,000 infected pigs in 4 months. This form of the disease is also reported to have spread to other countries, including Russia and weaker economies such as Vietnam and Bhutan. Sweden, reputed to be a PRRS-free country, faced its first outbreaks of PRRS in 2007. These are clear reminders that the control of PRRS is important for the industry as well as the food chain and ultimately to the consumer.

PRRS is a large, scientifically-challenging current problem for Europe, which requires a well co-ordinated solution. PRRS research is actively funded at national levels however Pan-European capacity-building activities do not currently exist to promote active scientific exchange of strategies. EuroPRRSnet offers an appropriate networking mechanism for the European PRRS research community as it will integrate and develop timely strategies among European participants to combat the disease. The aim of this initiative is to develop more effective multidisciplinary collaborative PRRS research centred on PRRSV epidemiology, immunopathology, vaccine development and harmonization of diagnostics tools. With a specific emphasis on genetics and genomics this network will improve understanding, and hence better control, of PRRS. The intention of the network is to generate productive and concrete outcomes to maximise the breadth of the European collaboration. EuroPRRSnet will establish a database of biological and bioinformatics resources relevant to PRRS research to enable effective sharing between national and ultimately international programmes. The strategies derived from this initiative will benefit animal health, producers, public health and allied organizations that have a stake in animal agriculture systems. The recommendations will be widely disseminated and serve as a roadmap for training and future initiatives.

This initiative will aim to significantly decrease the impact of PRRS by developing a network to co-ordinate and strengthen European research efforts. This will enable an optimized and sustainable balance of improvement in animal health and welfare, and benefit European Society by enabling a sustainable economic future for the European pig industry.