The National Reference Laboratory: coordinating diagnostic tests
ANSES's Ploufragan-Plouzané-Niort Laboratory is the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for avian influenza, and supervises a network of veterinary laboratories that operates on a permanent basis to rapidly carry out all the analyses necessary for diagnosing the disease. When a farm or wild birds are suspected of being infected with avian influenza, based on official clinical suspicion criteria, standardised samples are taken and immediately sent to approved veterinary laboratories for RT-PCR testing. ANSES’s laboratory then performs confirmatory analyses if a positive result is obtained with these tests.
The NRL regularly organises interlaboratory proficiency tests to ensure the reliability of the analyses performed by the veterinary laboratories in the network. Every year, it takes part in their equivalent at European level.
In addition, in view of how the virus is evolving, the NRL is developing new analytical methods and implementing advanced analyses to characterise the isolated strains in greater detail. It also has a collection of viral strains that it regularly supplements.
The ANSES laboratory shares data at an international level on the circulation of avian influenza virus strains, as part of the joint WOAH-FAO global network of expertise on animal influenza (OFFLU).
Research to improve knowledge of the avian influenza virus
Improve detection of the virus in the environment
The National Reference Laboratory for avian influenza assesses methods for detecting the avian influenza virus in the farm environment. This will make it possible to identify the most highly contaminated areas and equipment, and assess the effectiveness of the cleaning and disinfection measures taken before animals are reintroduced onto contaminated farms.
Improve knowledge of the strains in circulation
It is essential to closely study the characteristics of avian influenza viruses detected during animal epidemics, in order to improve responsiveness and adapt control measures. Work is focusing in particular on the genetic variability of the viruses, their virulence factors, and their capacity for transmission and adaptation to a non-avian host. Work on the latter is being carried out in close collaboration with the national reference centres for human influenza viruses and the public health authorities.
Test vaccines for ducks
ANSES is taking part in a study to assess the value of vaccinating ducks against the virus. The trial, which is testing two vaccine candidates in a strictly experimental setting, but under near field conditions and in sheltered conditions, started in May 2022. The studied vaccines are designed to prevent symptoms of the disease but also to curb transmission between poultry. The study was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture and is being carried out in partnership with the National Veterinary School of Toulouse, the regions of New Aquitaine, Occitanie, Pays-de-la-Loire and Brittany, and professionals in the sector. This research forms part of the action plan on vaccination against highly pathogenic avian influenza supported by the Minister of Agriculture.
Support to prevent and manage avian influenza crises
ANSES is regularly called on by the Ministry of Agriculture to assist in the management of avian influenza crises. For example, the Agency assesses the risk of introduction and spread of the disease on French poultry farms, in coordination with the epidemiological surveillance platform for animal health. These assessments take into consideration the global and European situation, the migration of wild birds, and the number of poultry farms in the areas frequented by infected wild birds. The Agency also supports the public authorities with the management measures to be put in place to limit the spread of the disease on farms, and carries out epidemiological surveys during animal epidemics and during depopulation operations on contaminated farms. Lastly, it conducts trials to assess the effectiveness of certain management approaches, such as the experimental assessment of the time needed to sanitise slurry, or the monitoring of viral persistence in landfill sites.
Provide expertise to international partners
At the international level, scientists from the Agency provide expertise on avian influenza to the European Commission and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). ANSES experts also participate in the standardisation work of the French Standardisation Association (AFNOR), the OFFLU network (WOAH/FAO), and the European Pharmacopoeia.