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Scientists working to protect Northern Ireland from Bird Flu

Queen’s University Belfast scientists are involved in two international projects aimed to protect Northern Ireland’s agri-food industry from Bird Flu and African Swine Fever, a disease which kills pigs.

Working with colleagues from other EU-member states and the Far East in the FLUTEST project they are providing improved diagnosis and early warning systems for bird flu.

Meanwhile, local researchers in the AFRISK project are working with 16 partner institutes around the world including Africa and the Far East to provide new ways of detecting African Swine Fever (ASF) and reduce the risk of the disease being imported into EU member states.

Gordon Allan, an Honorary Professor at Queen’s who is also a Principal Scientific Officer in the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), is leading researchers from both institutions in the European Commission-funded projects, which have each been awarded £130,000.

Professor Allan said: “Both of these viruses pose a significant threat to the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland and rapid detection of the viruses in any suspect infected animals is an important step in controlling and eliminating potential outbreaks of the disease.”

Bird Flu, (Avian Influenza) which has killed millions of birds across the world, is a constant threat to the poultry industry in Northern Ireland while African Swine Fever, a disease which kills pigs, has recently spread across Europe.

Although it has killed hundreds of people, Bird flu is not considered a large-scale threat to humans as it cannot pass easily from one person to another.

ASF is no longer confined to sub-Sahara African states, and recent outbreaks have been recorded in Sardinia, Georgia, Armenia and southern Russia.

Global warming and climate change are thought to be increasing the spread of the disease in Europe.

Professor Allan explained: “It is important to the agri-food industry on the island of Ireland that researchers, both North and South of the border, continue to participate in these large EC-funded projects.

“These multinational collaborations enable locally-based scientists to input expertise but they also gain considerable information from partners around the world on how to successfully fight the increasing threat to our local industry.

“Infectious diseases do not recognise borders and multinational collaboration is the only effective way to combat their spread.”

Andrea Clements | alfa
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