Some species of wild bird are showing signs of immunity to the currently prevailing strain of avian influenza, according to research released today (20 October).
A further £6.5 million is set to be invested to build on the initial findings of the FluMap consortium of Government agencies, universities and research groups set up last year to examine the crisis.
Officials have warned there does not appear to be any broader population level benefits yet and resistance could be further undermined by future mutations.
But project leader Ian Brown argued that significant progress had nonetheless been made.
Prof Brown said: “I am excited that we have already made some important discoveries, particularly around the genetic makeup of avian influenza viruses.
“I am pleased that with further funding this work can continue – helping us to control the spread of the disease while furthering UK animal health science and ensuring we maintain our world-leading reputation in the field.”
The consortium, which is headed by the APHA, brings together academics from the universities of Cambridge, Leeds and Nottingham, along with the RVC and Imperial College London, plus The Pirbright Institute and Roslin.
The group claims it has identified several characteristics of the current H5N1 strain of the virus, including the evolution of certain genes, which have enabled it to spread rapidly and into different species.
It also found the infectious virus could only travel very short distances and is unlikely to be transmitted from one farm to another through the air.
Around half of the new money is to be used on expanding understanding of the disease in birds, including further analysis of wild birds after species including Northern gannets and shag showed signs of immunity.
The remainder will be used to examine issues of potential human transmission.
Guy Poppy, interim executive chairperson of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, said: “The latest funding for the avian influenza research consortium signifies our collective commitment across research disciplines and government departments to coordinate a world-class response that helps safeguard animal and human health.”
Prof Poppy added: “This investment is testament to the UK’s determination to stay ahead of avian influenza and underscores the importance of collaboration in the face of evolving threats.”
Credit to: Immunity hope as £6.5 million avian flu research plan announced (Vet Times)
Vet Times. (2023). Immunity hope as £6.5 million avian flu research plan announced [online]
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