Newswise — Scientists developing a rapid system for tackling outbreaks of avian influenza at their origins in Thailand are available to discuss their project and how it could potentially help improve responses to other pandemic threats such as coronavirus.
Rapid and reliable detection of local outbreaks of emerging viruses is critical for stopping them before they spread from nation to nation, as coronavirus has tragically demonstrated.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and Bloomberg School of Public Health have forged a collaborative partnership with Thailand and its Mahidol University to develop a sustainable avian influenza surveillance tool that can be administered at on-the-ground locations where humans interact with poultry.
“When the next avian influenza pandemic strikes, it will disproportionately impact vulnerable populations living in low- and middle-income countries – both in terms of death and economic devastation,” wrote the researchers, APL’s Anissa Elayadi and public health PhD candidate Anastasia Lambrou working with professor Christopher Heaney, in a project summary. “At special risk are those working in the poultry industry who will have frontline exposure to the pathogen.”
Detecting avian influenza in global hotspots such as Thailand “involves advanced laboratory capacity, trained professionals, and hours of transportation with associated potential loss of virus viability,” they wrote. Together with seven colleagues, the Hopkins researchers will collaborate with Thailand’s departments of public health, disease control, and livestock development to identify ways to refine diagnostic processes and procedures that can ultimately be replicated at other global hotspots.
The efforts come as the risk of pandemics continually grow because of increased global travel and economic integration, urbanization, and environment exploitation, research shows. As Lambrou knows firsthand, Thailand has been a leader in Southeast Asia at seeking to build a new infrastructure that incorporates new, portable technologies for testing and genome sequencing, and for rapidly transmitting results to decision makers.
Health workers who have the right tools cannot report results in a timely manner if they consistently lack reliable Wi-Fi, mobile connectivity, and electricity to power portable devices and laptops, she said.
“We want to identify the gaps and map them out,” Lambrou said.
The World Bank’s Disease Control Priorities report details the dangers of delayed detection. Delayed reporting of early SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) cases in the 2003 pandemic resulted in the World Health Organization compelling member states to establish stricter standards for detecting, reporting on, and responding to outbreaks.
Although the international community “has made progress” toward limiting emerging outbreaks since then, poorer nations lack resources to deploy effective methods. That has led to “significant gaps in global pandemic preparedness,” as demonstrated in the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, where timely detection systems were lacking. The result: “disproportionately higher mortality impact on low- and middle-income countries.”