In a collaborative effort between the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and international and Indonesian scientists, a research team from CSIRO recently used a pioneering technique known as antigenic cartography to ‘map’ the evolution of the bird flu virus.
While helping the Indonesian government protect its vast poultry flock against the deadly disease, this work also played a vital role in helping to manage the risk to Australia’s billion dollar poultry industry.
The outcomes from this technology are a major step forward in the fight against emerging infectious animal diseases, including bird flu, and the risks they pose to human health, global food security and animal health and welfare.
In address today to more than 600 delegates at the 1st International One Health Congress in Melbourne, CSIRO scientist Dr Peter Daniels, said the threat of global pandemic disease outbreaks is intensifying as the world populations of both people and farmed animals rise.
“Two of the most disruptive and potentially catastrophic threats of the last decade have been from influenza viruses that originated in animal populations – the H5N1 bird flu and the pandemic H1N1 flu that evolved in pigs,” Dr Daniels said.
”To prepare for future outbreaks we need increasing cooperation, communication and sophistication in the way the animal health sector interacts with the public health sector.”
In response, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization have joined forces to create OFFLU – a global network of expertise on animal influenzas.
According to Dr Daniels, who is Chairman of the OFFLU Executive Committee, the network offers a unique way of managing influenzas in the animal health sector while communicating directly with the public health sector.
OFFLU will play an active role in the process that the World Health Organization (WHO) use to select antigens for human influenza vaccines, similar to the ‘mapping’ work that CSIRO did to help the Indonesian government ensure poultry vaccines for bird flu are effective.
As a member of the OFFLU network, CSIRO’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong is one of three laboratories around the world currently collaborating with the WHO to generate the scientific data that guide this process, to protect against the threat of H5N1 flu becoming a pandemic.
”We are aiming to keep the public health authorities up to date about the animal viruses circulating around the world, so that the WHO can determine whether their human vaccine banks remain relevant or must be restocked to keep up with the latest changes in influenza viruses, which evolve continuously,” Dr Daniels said.
CSIRO is an integral player within the One Health arena, with world class animal bioscience, environmental management, agricultural sustainability and climate change research.