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Experts advise UK Government on bird flu 

Scientific specialists contribute to action plan on managing current and future severe bird flu strains. 

Roslin scientists have played a key role in developing a plan to support the UK Government in managing bird flu. 

Their expertise has been called upon to inform Government decisions during the current severe, prolonged outbreak of avian flu, which is impacting wild and domestic birds around the world. 

The UK Government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) sought advice from a task group on Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu, which was formed under the auspices of Defra’s Science Advisory Council and included three experts from the Roslin Institute.  

Defra’s objectives were to gain insight on which animals are impacted, and which might be affected in future; ways to mitigate the impact on wild birds; the possibility of using vaccines; and how best to project the future of the outbreak. 

Actions on flu

The resulting report sets out a series of recommendations to help understand and mitigate avian flu. 

These include supporting data acquisition and research funding for investigations to characterise the range of species the virus is able to infect.  

The panel also recommended developing enhanced surveillance systems for severe strains of bird flu, to understand their circulation in wild birds, in order to monitor threats to wild species and ongoing risks to domestic birds. 

They also advise enhanced monitoring of wild bird populations and improving the evidence base around potential interventions to reduce the risk of severe strains to wild birds. 

Other recommendations in the report relate to data records, such as enhancing demographic data recorded in the Great Britain Poultry Registry of kept birds, and facilitating the acquisition of data to help estimate rates of severe strain transmission between kept bird premises. 

Outbreak preparations

In addition, the panel recommended Defra improve its data acquisition to help model future outbreaks in wild birds, and to enable simpler procedures for generating data around severe strains.  

They also suggest Defra adds to its evaluations of environmental management developments with assessments of the potential impact of severe strains on vulnerable species. 

Experts also recommend that Defra develops trial specifications, identifies potential field trial sites, and commissions modelling studies as soon as possible. 

As a guiding principle, Defra should consider that laboratory and surveillance capacity be designed to deal with more frequent, more intense outbreaks in future, they add. 

The report authors include Professor Rowland Kao, Professor Paul Digard, and Professor Lonneke Vervelde of the Roslin Institute.

These recommendations are priority measures based on solid scientific evidence, can be put into practice readily, and will have greatest potential for managing future severe strains of bird flu.

Professor Rowland Kao Roslin Institute

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

Related links 

Highly pathogenic avian influenza in Great Britain: evaluation and future actions 

Blog: Severe bird flu season brings impetus to tackling virus 

Image credit: Heather Wilde on Unsplash