£1.5m research project to tackle bird flu outbreaks launched

£1.5m research project to tackle bird flu outbreaks launched

Scientists have joined forces in a bid to identify new ways to fight bird flu.

A consortium from eight leading laboratories has been given £1.5m to develop strategies to tackle recent outbreaks of the H5N1 strain causing severe illness and death in birds.

It comes after what was described as the wort ever outbreak on those islands.

In Northern Ireland, six commercial and backyard flocks were culled after the detection of the highly infectious strain, HPAI H5N1.

Six outbreaks were also confirmed in the Republic, mostly in County Monaghan, and one in County Cavan.

In Great Britain, there have been 109 outbreaks since the first was detected in October 2021.

Scientists do not yet fully understand why these outbreaks have been worse than in previous years and researchers will be tasked with finding out why the current virus strain has led to a longer outbreak and why some birds, such as ducks, are resistant to some strains.

They will also look at how gaps in biosecurity may have allowed the virus to transmit from wild birds to farmed poultry.

Globally, vaccines against bird flu in people are being developed in case a more aggressive strain jumps from poultry into the human population.

The government’s top animal virologist, Professor Ian Brown, Head of Virology at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), said: “There are vaccine candidates prepared against all these emerging strains in poultry should one of them make that successful jump to humans.

“They are changing on an almost continuous basis. The concern is that we want to make sure they don’t change into a form that is more infectious to humans.

“That doesn’t look plausible at the moment … but we have to be watchful.”

Public spending watchdog the National Audit Office said last week that the poor state of APHA’s main laboratory in Weybridge could undermine the fight against animal diseases like bird flu and that delays to its rebuild could limit the UK’s response to another disease outbreak.

The government said it was taking steps to secure the facility’s future.