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Research Highlights

The Australian Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease completed its funding term under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program on 30 June 2010.

This website will stay live until 30 June 2015 to facilitate ongoing access by researchers and end users to the projects and key outcomes of the AB-CRC.

Program 1: Technologies to Enhance Detection

We are actively involved in developing new and improved diagnostic tests for many of the emerging disease threats in our region.

Key highlights:

Horse flu detection: A diagnostic tool we developed for diagnosing avian influenza was pivotal in Australia’s rapid and effective response to the horse flu outbreak in August 2007.

Bird flu detection: AB-CRC funded researchers have designed and validated a new molecular test to detect avian influenza viruses. The test plays a vital role in improving Australia's national capacity to diagnose avian influenza, including the highly pathogenic H5 strain (HPAI-H5).

The test has been trialled among nine different veterinary laboratories in Australia and New Zealand to ensure that reproducible test capacity is in place.

Horse flu
On 30 June 2008, Australia was declared free of horse flu.
It took 125 days to control the outbreak; more than 10,000 infected premises were involved, and approximately
76,000 horses were infected and 281,000 horses vaccinated

It has been submitted to the Sub-Committee of Animal Health Laboratory Standards (SCAHLS) for approval, and if accepted it will make part of the Australian Standard Diagnostic Procedures. One of our projects (AL.068R) is currently looking at modifying and refining the original test to take into account variations in strain sequence.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) detection: While many research groups around the world were focused on the SARS outbreak in humans, our researchers designed a new blood test for rapidly identifying animals infected with the SARS virus which led to the discovery of the virus reservoir. We successfully transferred our results to Asia and the research was published in Science.

Henipavirus detection: Australia and Malaysia are currently using a new assay which can detect and differentiate between Nipah and Hendra viruses. The molecular test will help researchers to map and monitor the henipavirus strains which infect different animals and can lead to human fatalities. The assay has also provided valuable information to surveillance programs screening bat populations (a reservoir of the virus) to identify which viruses they are carrying.

Foot-and-mouth disease detection: Researchers at the AB-CRC developed a new test for foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) that can distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals, and is faster, cheaper, safer and more sensitive than those previously available for detecting FMD in livestock. Work is currently underway to develop the test further so that it can be used in the field. 

Tests that can differentiate between vaccinated and infected animals, called DIVA tests, are crucial for proving freedom from disease and allowing trade to resume. The current DIVA test used throughout the world relies on reagents that are expensive to produce, difficult to prepare and maintain, and require strict biocontainment facilities. We developed a “first of its kind” test that will replace these limiting reagents with safe and economical artificial ones that do not require infectious virus or high microbiological security.

Middle Point virus discovery: In recent years, Australian arbovirus surveillance programs have been unable to identify hundreds of isolated arboviruses from insects and other animals using conventional serological testing. In an AB-CRC funded project (1.020R), researchers developed molecular technologies to identify previously uncharacterised viruses. These technologies have already helped us identify a new orbivirus circulating in northern Australia, which has been named Middle Point orbivirus. Though prevalent, the virus does seem to be pathogenic, with infected cattle demonstrating no clinical symptoms.

Program 2: Ecology of Emerging Infectious Diseases

We are constantly working on improving our understanding of the characteristics and transmission mechanisms of infectious agents

Key highlights:

SARS reservoir: Our researchers were part of an international team that discovered bats are the wildlife reservoir of SARS. This research has led to a better understanding of the major role of bats in the emergence of new zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that can be transmitted or are shared between animals and humans.

Henipavirus transmission: Our surveys of fruit bat populations in northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and Indonesia, support preliminary findings of past and present contact between flying foxes of these countries. This is important background information to risk analysis identifying pathways and risk likelihoods for movement of bat-carried viruses (e.g. Hendra and Nipah viruses).

West Nile virus reservoir: Our researchers discovered that unlike their American counterparts, little ravens in Australia are not as susceptible to the New York strain of West Nile virus. Consequently, we are able to rule out little ravens as a potential ‘early warning system’ for the introduction of the virus into Australia.

Flying-fox fitted with transmitter
An adult male Great Flying-Fox is fitted with a satellite transmitter to study the extent of contact between Australian and Papua New Guinean flying-fox populations.  Photo by Andrew Breed, runner up of the AB-CRC 2007 Photographic competition.
Program 3: Advanced Surveillance Systems

We are actively developing a stronger national and regional capacity for disease surveillance.

Key highlights:

Pooled Prevalence Calculator: An internet-based epidemiological calculator for estimating disease prevalence from pooled samples is available online at www.austvet.com.au/pprev/. The Pooled Prevalence Calculator provides an invaluable resource for researchers or epidemiologists undertaking disease surveillance involving prevalence estimation at the individual level (human, animal, aquatic animal, insects or plants) using pooled samples. The system also includes a comprehensive User Guide, Glossary and example analysis based on Hendra virus in fruit bats.

Bovine Syndromic Surveillance System (BOSSS): Researhers in an AB-CRC collaboration developed a web accessible database (BOSSS) for reporting signs of disease in cattle by producers in northern Australia. The database also shows promise for use in remote areas and developing countries. The system is available at www.ausvet.com.au/bosss.

Confidence in disease freedom: Software that analyses disease surveillance data to provide an estimation of a country’s confidence in freedom from a disease is available at www.ausvet.com.au/freedom. The methods have been subject to peer review via national and international training courses and presentation at conferences. The software has gained a tremendous level of international recognition with continued demand for short-courses already held in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It has also been well received by a wide variety of stakeholder groups including animal, plant, aquaculture and public health personnel.

Sugar ‘lure’ for mosquitoes: A new sugar ‘lure’ for collecting the saliva of mosquitoes during the feeding process has been invented as a technique for direct detection of mosquito-borne viruses, with the aim of eliminating the use of sentinel animals. The lure was originally developed to test for Japanese encephalitis, although it could potentially be used for any arthropod-borne virus, including Yellow fever, dengue and West Nile viruses.

Disease outbreak management: We have successfully developed and validated an electronic system for linking livestock movements to property data in Western Australia. AB-CRC affiliated researchers developed the system using the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) and Western Australian databases, with the aim of tracing, mapping, monitoring and investigating disease occurrence. NLIS is an effective electronic animal tracking system but it does not provide specific information about property location and ownership, and health status of property and livestock, which are recorded in individual state databases. The project has created an electronic system that links individual databases with one another and with NLIS to enable real-time investigation of animal locations, movements, laboratory testing history and property details. The electronic system will enable the development of a federated system for managing emerging animal disease.

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