Hatching ideas: Ilaria Capua’s column

Hatching ideas: Ilaria Capua’s column

Working towards the future

Dr Ilaria Capua 6 June, 2012

In our modern and globalised society, influenza viruses know no boundary and are able to potentially spread efficiently and quickly through the various international trade and human travel networks. Furthermore, the ever changing nature of these viruses through mutations and reassortments makes them unpredictable and in constant evolution. With this in mind it is clear that we need to develop new approaches to attempting to grade the pandemic risk posed by certain animal viruses, based on a sound scientific approach. We do not want to be taken by surprise again, as we were in Spring 2009 with the unexpected emergence of H1N1p.

Last month, I presented to you the “One Flu” approach. Thanks to funding made available by the CDC, last year we organised a “One Flu” strategic retreat in Castelbrando (TV) Italy, which set the scene for developments in the field of improving our prediction skills on pandemic preparedness (See link).
Following this meeting the Influenza Division of the CDC began developing a risk assessment tool with the goal of determining the pandemic risk posed by selected animal viruses, in order to improve response mechanisms. Similarly, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) funded an international consortium working on the FLURISK project, set out to produce a risk assessment framework to rank currently circulating influenza strains based on their potential to cross the species barrier and cause human infection.  As such, the models are not prediction tools and will not provide a definitive indication of what the next pandemic strain will be, but will rather help identify potentially hazardous strains that deserve particular attention. The CDC and FLURISK tools are proceeding hand in hand and complement each other also because they focus on a different stage of pandemic preparedness, and are pioneering a veterinary -medical partnership for improved public health, in line with the “One Health” vision.

However, it is clear that any risk assessment tool will only make sense and be reliable if the information it includes is sound and representative. There is no point on applying a complex mathematical model to a virus which is months old or is extinct. For this reason the role of field veterinarians  and of veterinary diagnostic laboratories is essential for the success of these initiatives in making sure that information is collected appropriately and made available to the international community in a rapid and transparent manner.
We are the cornerstone of this ambitious adventure.





Ilaria Capua