On 20 June 2022, eight of the UK's scientific organisations have formed a new research consortium to tackle bird flu, having received £1.5 million funding from the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The consortium, headed by the research team at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), has been tasked with developing new strategies to tackle future bird flu outbreaks.
This year’s bird flu outbreak has been the largest and longest ever experienced in the UK and in many parts of Europe, starting earlier than in previous years after the virus continued to circulate in Europe over summer 2021 and leading to over 100 cases in the UK.
The aim of the consortium is to find new ways to contain future outbreaks, and it is hoped will provide a significant boost to the UK’s poultry sector and rural economy, which has experienced significant disruption from this year’s outbreak, with compulsory indoor housing measures put in place to protect poultry.
The consortium will focus on building understanding of bird flu in several key areas, including:
- what it is about the current virus strains that helps 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
- inform risk mitigation measures in birds to reduce disease burden thereby protecting against zoonotic transmission occurring from animals to humans, to prevent future spillovers of influenza with pandemic potential into humans
Source: Defra, 20 June 2022