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Livestock viral diseases

The ever growing populations of livestock world-wide, and the continual increase in intra- and intercontinental trade of livestock, meats and products derived from them, is increasing the risk posed to the UK by livestock virus diseases that are usually not found here. Mitigating these threats not only require us to do research that underpins control measures within our borders, but also to contribute to better disease control in those countries where the diseases are endemic; reducing the disease abroad means minimising the risk to British farmers.

The UK foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak of 2001 was not only devastating to British livestock and their owners, it also brought other rural businesses to a stop, and cost billions of pounds for control actions and compensation. In addition to FMD virus we are also studying the causative viruses of classical swine fever, peste des petits ruminants of sheep and goats, bovine respiratory syncytial virus, and are in a position to investigate additional emerging viruses, such as swine influenzas, which can be a threat to people as well as livestock. The Livestock Viral Diseases (LVD) programme includes the Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory, which provides diagnostic services and advice for Defra, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the European Union.

Our scientific priorities are to understand:

  • Why viruses emerge and why some reach a dominant position in livestock populations, spreading widely and persisting for long periods, sometimes evolving in the process
  • The features of the viruses that enable them to grow well, including attachment to and take-up into cells, and how new particles assemble
  • How livestock immune systems combat viral infections, and how this is affected by genetic differences amongst individuals and breeds of livestock
  • The mechanisms by which viruses evade the immune systems of their livestock hosts

Our research has additional impact arising from

  • The design of improved disease control strategies
  • The underpinning of the diagnosis service provided by our Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory
  • Modelling of the diseases, for prediction of emergence and spread within the UK
  • The Institute being a hub for collaboration with research and surveillance partners worldwide
  • Development of diagnostic tools for internal and worldwide use
  • Development of vaccines
  • Training of livestock industry professionals, diagnosticians and students

Unique resources

  • Our Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory
  • An interdisciplinary team of experts comprising diagnosticians, epidemiologists, immunologists, molecular biologists, pathologists, vaccinologists, and virologists who can provide an emergency response capacity for the UK
  • New laboratories and large-animal experimentation facilities at very high bio-containment levels (SAPO 3 and 4) for research on viruses from overseas
  • Cattle and inbred pigs of known genetic background (defined MHC Class I haplotypes)
  • Cloned cattle MHC genes that determine protective immune responses

Three of the viruses that we study within the LVD Programme are usually not present within the UK, though they are a continual threat.

FMD is perhaps the most feared disease amongst owners of cloven-footed animals, the major species under threat in the UK, where they are all totally susceptible to FMD virus, being cattle, sheep and pigs. The virus (a picornavirus) is still present on three continents – Africa, Asia, and South America, plus the Indian subcontinent.

Classical swine fever is caused by a pestivirus which occurs in much of Asia, Central and South America, parts of Africa – and in parts of Europe. It is a highly contagious disease, outbreaks of which are controlled by slaughter in Europe.

Peste des petits ruminants virus (PPRV, a morbillivirus), which causes disease in sheep and goats in Africa and Asia, is a close relative of rinderpest which has recently been eradicated globally. Our research is aimed at producing better vaccines and diagnostics for the control of PPR, with the possibility of eradicating it.

Nairobi sheep disease, spread by ticks, a close relative of Crimea-Congo haemorrhagic fever of humans.

Bovine respiratory syncytial virus (a pneumovirus) is endemic in the UK, causing pneumonia in calves. We also study it because it serves as a model for the closely related human respiratory syncytial virus which causes particularly serious pneumonia in young children.

The Institute has the the Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory on behalf of Defra, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the European Union in respect of FMD and swine vesicular disease.

Research Groups

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