Science - November 3, 2005

Wageningen advises on avian flu

Researchers from the Animal Sciences Group (ASG) and the Central Institute of Animal Disease Control (CIDC-Lelystad) assisted Romanian veterinary laboratories last week in setting up rapid tests to detect avian influenza in wild birds and poultry. The H5N1 strain, which is dangerous for humans, has been found in the Danube delta in Romania.

Henk Wisselink of ASG and Sylvia Pritz-Verschuren from CIDC are just back from Bucharest. Wisselink: ‘We have been in touch with scientists in Romania for a while. Last year we helped to introduce rapid PCR tests in the national reference laboratory in Bucharest and veterinary labs in the area, using EU money. We had just finished that project. We knew the people there well and knew what equipment they had. That’s why the Romanians asked us to help now.’

The Dutch researchers could also draw on their own experiences during the avian influenza outbreak of 2003 in the Netherlands. CIDC-Lelystad processed large quantities of samples each day to identify which Dutch poultry farms needed to destroy their birds. The Lelystad researchers used a rapid PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to trace the virus. The standard test takes two weeks and requires a virus culture in eggs. With the help of PCR technology the virus can be detected far more quickly. The slower culture is used to confirm the initial rapid results.

Probably even more important than the technology is the Dutch expertise that will enable them to scale-up the research capacity in Romania in a short time. Wisselink: ‘We have advised them to set up a training programme and to transfer the laboratory personnel that we trained recently to the lab in Bucharest. We also gave them tips on how to make their logistics more effective.’

Other Dutch experts are assisting in Romania as well. A team from the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (VWA) has advised on setting up a crisis centre in the outbreak area and on destroying poultry. Researchers from CIDC-Lelystad will leave soon for Croatia, where the H5N1 virus strain has also been found. /
/ KV

Re:act