Animal flu strategies focus of regional workshop

December 21, 2009

An international workship in Australia last week probed issues around animal influenza in the Asia Pacific region, including concerns over the new H1N1 flu spreading to livestock.

The aim of the meeting at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria, was improved diagnosis and surveillance of animal influenza in the Asia Pacific region.

The laboratory is part of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency.

CSIRO's diagnosis surveillance and response theme leader, Dr Peter Daniels, said harmonising and strengthening regional guidelines for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) and pandemic H1N1 (swine influenza) will provide co-ordinated protocols for laboratory diagnosis as well as for surveillance of animal influenza in Southeast Asia.

"This is a major step forward in efforts to improve the diagnosis and management of these emergency animal diseases in the region," Dr Daniels said.

"Assisting neighbouring countries to better prepare for these viruses is vital, as it not only reduces the disease risks to the countries themselves but also assists the preparedness of Australian biosecurity through better threat assessment and management."

More than 50 international influenza specialists attended the workshop, jointly organised by CSIRO, the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Murdoch University.

FAO's regional manager Dr Subhash Morzaria said despite notable improvements in diagnostic and surveillance abilities, HPAI is still entrenched in many parts of Asia.

"This highlights the need for continual and coordinated efforts in response to this devastating disease," Dr Morzaria said. "Gaining further knowledge on the epidemiology of HPAI is crucial in being able to develop effective prevention and control planning.

"This is a major step forward in efforts to improve the diagnosis and management of these emergency animal diseases in the region," Dr Daniels said.

He said the emergence of pandemic H1N1 influenza in the human population has also created alarm.

"We are particularly concerned about the potential impact of pandemic H1N1 (2009) on livestock and a possibility of the emergence of a reassortant virus, which could infect humans in an unpredictable way," Dr Morzaria said.

"Animal health authorities are developing surveillance strategies backed by laboratory testing capabilities so this new situation can be monitored in each country.

"Our objective is to have a common approach to this work throughout the Asia Pacific."

Workshop participants are working within AAHL's high biocontainment facility, alongside CSIRO and Murdoch University scientists.

Follow up collaborations during the first half of 2010, including in-country visits and on-going consultations coordinated by the FAO Regional Office in Bangkok, will assist in enhancing regional harmonisation further.