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Animal Disease Study Launched

Story supplied by LU Press Office

The study will help authorities respond more effectively to outbreaks of diseases such as bluetongue The study will help authorities respond more effectively to outbreaks of diseases such as bluetongue

Lancaster University is leading a new study to help the authorities respond more effectively to outbreaks of animal disease.

The research is focusing on Foot and Mouth Disease, Cryptosporidium and Avian Flu as case studies, but the outcomes of the study are designed to inform policy across a range of disease areas, such as the effective management of Bluetongue.

Much of the research will centre on North West England which was particularly hard hit by Foot and Mouth Disease and faces long-term pressures on land use related to Cryptosporidiosis.

From culling livestock to restricting movement, decisions made in the throes of an outbreak are often controversial and based on limited available information

The three-year research project brings together a diverse team of experts to examine data from previous outbreaks and learn lessons from the past. By taking a fresh look at the growing mountain of historical evidence the multi-disciplinary team hopes to find ways of helping policy makers, scientists and communities work together to handle future outbreaks more effectively, both in terms of animal-to-animal and animal-to-human transmission.

The £793k project has been funded under the UK Research Councils' Rural Economy and Land Use Programme. The project is a partnership between Lancaster University (Lancaster Environment Centre, CESAGen, the School of Health and Medicine and Sociology), experts from The Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology as well as the University of Liverpool's Faculty of Veterinary Science and the National Centre for Zoonosis Research (NCZR).

Crucially the research group is developing its insight by bringing together experts from diverse fields including public health, sociology, microbiology, epidemiology, veterinary science, environmental science and medical statistics. Researchers believe this interdisciplinary approach is the key to improving future policy, ultimately protecting communities more effectively from disease.

Dr Robert Fish, Senior Research Fellow in the Lancaster Environment Centre's Centre for Sustainable Water Management, said: "Animal diseases are major environmental security issues in the UK, with potentially devastating consequences for affected communities. The question is: are we prepared for next significant national disease breakdown? Our research will offer a considered response to that question with the view to informing good practice."

Joint leader of the research Professor Heathwaite of Lancaster University's Centre for Sustainable Water Management said: "The scientific evidence on animal disease continues to develop, and history offers us plenty of lessons on how we should handle and contain threats within affected communities.

We are interested in the science that informs decision-making in an animal health crisis. These decisions can be made on limited information and the risk of getting things wrong is high. This is both because different research disciplines do not always share ideas or approaches, and because the science community is not always good at translating this knowledge into policy advice.

We hope by bringing different research disciplines together we can overcome some of these challenges to develop a more integrated strategy of containment for animal disease."

Fri 31 October 2008

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