For the past year and a half, eyes have been on the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe: but SARS-CoV-2 is only the latest animal virus to adapt to humans, causing death and disease. Influenza viruses are a constant threat to humans and animals, with their ability to move between species, and change their level of virulence. While the world battles COVID-19, it is critical that we learn the lessons of this pandemic and ensure that we are effectively researching other viruses that pose a similar risk, such as influenza, with its implications for animal production and human health.
Towards this aim, the STAR-IDAZ International Research Consortium on Animal Health has commissioned an independent report, to comprehensively review the research on animal influenza viruses, that have been published in the last five years, including studies on virology, pathogenicity, epidemiology, prevention and control. As well as reviewing recently published literature, major leading research groups working in this field were contacted so that information on their current research priorities and activities, could be included.
The findings show good progress in understanding influenza, but major gaps in our knowledge and preparedness for a pandemic remain. It highlights the importance of surveillance of animal populations, including wild birds, as well as developing appropriate diagnostic techniques, and molecular studies to track the evolution of variants of the virus. The report also looks towards the future of animal influenza research, including how to leverage the rapid advances made in understanding the science of SARS-CoV-2-19 to advance our knowledge of influenza and its control.
Alex Morrow, coordinator of STAR-IDAZ IRC, said: “The past year has been dominated by COVID-19, but influenza hasn’t gone away, with several potentially dangerous viruses circulating in wildfowl and livestock. Influenza is a global problem and needs a coordinated global approach to understand and control it. This report is a major step in helping us establish the current state of knowledge on animal influenza, and will be used to help direct future research in a coordinated way.”
Jean-Charles Cavitte, research policy officer, European Commission said: “Influenza is a constant threat to human health and animal production worldwide – to provide evidence to support the prevention and control of influenza and ensure the world is adequately prepared for potential influenza pandemics in the future, we need to understand the current state of knowledge and related gaps so that investment in research and innovation, and its coordination at the international level can be targeted to achieve the best results. This review is an important step in that process.”
Cyril Gay, national program leader for animal production and protection at the Agricultural Research Service, USDA, said: “Animal influenza viruses continue to pose a significant threat to farmers and public health worldwide. Influenza viruses, with their ability to infect different animal species and to rapidly mutate and change their genome, pose a serious challenge for scientists looking to prevent and control them. Coordinating the international research effort will enhance the rapid delivery of scientific information and veterinary medical countermeasures to help protect human and animal health and the livelihood of farmers worldwide.”
Professor Hong Yin of the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and Chair of the STAR-IDAZ IRC, said: “Influenza is a global problem – a serious threat to human health and food security, that needs a coordinated approach in researching the tools that we need to prevent and control this disease. STAR-IDAZ IRC plays an important role in this coordinated approach and this report will be valuable in helping us deal with influenza threat.”
The findings of the report will be used in a detailed gap analyses to be organised by STAR-IDAZ IRC with the USDA, that will incorporate a review of current research and control measures, alongside knowledge of control strategies, in use or under development, and their efficacy.
The review was conducted by Insight Editing, London, and reviewed by influenza experts in several countries around the world.
This report is part of a project that has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727494 which supports the Secretariat to STAR-IDAZ IRC.