The 2022 annual report of the WOAH/FAO Network of Expertise on Animal Influenza (OFFLU) highlights its significant contributions in sharing critical scientific data, advancing pandemic preparedness vaccines, and promoting diagnostic capabilities worldwide. Through collaborative efforts with international organizations, OFFLU strives to enhance global health and preparedness in combating avian, swine, and equine influenza, while safeguarding animal and human populations against the risks posed by these infectious diseases.
Sharing critical data with the international community
OFFLU aims to promptly identify and analyze emerging strains of influenza viruses in animal populations. By effectively managing known infections, this proactive approach ensures improved management of risks to human health, and contributes to the promotion of global food security, animal health and welfare, and various other community benefits associated with domestic animals and wildlife.
Avian influenza has been a major concern throughout 2022, reaching a record number of cases affecting millions of poultry and wild birds across the world. As highlighted in OFFLU’s annual report, the network’s experts have identified H5N1 as the main avian influenza subtype circulating in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe, which showed significant genetic variations within the different regions.
The report also mentions an increase in infections among both terrestrial and marine mammals. While human infections with H5N1 were sporadic, they were reported in some of the affected continents and low pathogenicity avian influenza (LPAI) viruses of the H9N2 subtype resulted in losses in poultry production.
To address the global surge in avian influenza outbreaks, OFFLU experts contributed to risk assessments and actively participated in sharing critical data with the scientific community and policymakers. By working together with experts across sectors, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) and the World Health Organization (WHO), OFFLU has largely contributed to a better understanding of the avian influenza situation and how to best tackle it.
Contributing to pandemic preparedness
As part of its key mission to collect genetic data on influenza viruses, OFFLU contributed to the WHO Vaccine Composition Meeting (VCM) for avian and swine influenza, in collaboration with WOAH and FAO Reference Centers, research programs, and national veterinary laboratories. The network provided essential genetic, antigenic, and epidemiological data to contribute to development of human candidate vaccine viruses for pre-pandemic preparedness. It helps ensure that, should these animal influenza viruses make the jump from animals to humans, and potentially cause a pandemic, the appropriate vaccines are rapidly developed with the best protection possible. As such, they collected over 1,500 avian influenza virus sequences and 534 swine influenza virus sequences from various regions worldwide.
Regarding swine influenza, OFFLU provided valuable information to the WHO VCM for influenza pre-pandemic preparedness, where a new candidate vaccine virus for swine influenza was proposed. The experts group also participated in a Tool for Influenza Pandemic Risk Assessment (TIPRA) exercise to address the detection of swine influenza viruses and human cases across different geographical regions since 2017.
In addition, the Expert Surveillance Panel of Equine Influenza, which includes OFFLU and WHO influenza experts, met to review the activity and characteristics of equine influenza viruses. Similar to previous years, the panel issued recommendations on the content of vaccines for the international market.
Promoting diagnostic capabilities and monitoring wildlife risks
To promote international harmonization of diagnostic capabilities among laboratories, OFFLU conducted proficiency testing rounds. Within the year, the focus was on assessing laboratories’ ability to detect and characterize widely circulating influenza viruses.
In order to address the rising number of H5N1 avian influenza cases reported in mammalian species such as mink and sea otters, OFFLU also carried out a monitoring and tracking of the increased risk of avian influenza transmission to mammals in 2022. Experts shared data and collaborated closely with local public health counterparts to enhance the collective knowledge on risk factors, potential prevention and preparedness measures against this growing concern.
We are here to provide countries with the best information and guidance to fight animal influenza.Professor Ian Brown,
Chair of OFFLU Steering Committee
As OFFLU continues its tireless efforts to combat animal influenzas, its collaborative approach and dedication to the One Health framework remain vital in safeguarding animal and human populations against the threats of these infectious diseases.