A tool to rank animal influenza strains according to their potential to infect humans is one of the conclusions of the final report from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s FLURISK project.

The project was commissioned to systematically assess the potential health threat posed by animal influenza viruses and had as its main aim the development and validation of a methodological influenza risk assessment framework capable of assessing the pandemic potential of new influenza viruses or viral subtypes emerging in animals.

A prototype spatial epidemiological model was developed, which includes virological and epidemiological components. The output of the model is a list of ranked animal viruses according to their potential to infect humans. Opportunity maps can be generated to highlight high risk regions.

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Ron Fouchier, flu researcher from the Erasmus Medical Centre in The Netherlands, comments: “Over the last decade, there have been less than 1,000 documented human cases of infections with avian influenza virus, and approximately 100 documented human cases of infections with pig influenza virus. These cases generally occurred after direct contact of humans with infected animals.

“A full prevention of future influenza pandemics originating from animal influenza is unlikely, but we should try to reduce the likelihood of pandemics and limit their public health impact. In this light, EFSA’s FLURISK initiative is another valuable step towards understanding the global efforts to understand the transmission of influenza viruses from animals to humans.”