Outbreak Preparedness and Viral Disease Surveillance in the UK and Abroad

Outbreak preparedness: the importance of international research

Research is instrumental in combating major public health emergencies that threaten human health both in the UK and abroad.  In recent years, there have been significant global outbreaks of Ebola and Zika viruses, the largest outbreak of HIV infection within the UK since the 1980s as well as the current (COVID-19/SARS2) coronavirus epidemic.  Researchers have been central to both understanding the underlying causes of such outbreaks and identifying therapeutics, vaccine candidates or delivery methods to mitigate/prevent outbreaks.  In recent years drugs and vaccines identified by researchers have gone on to be approved for use by regulatory bodies at an unprecedented rate.

It is essential that the CVR contributes, when appropriate, to the research arm of operational responses to outbreaks of such viruses and if required to the operational response itself; for example, the CVR sent several researchers to assist in Sierra Leone during the West Africa Ebola outbreak during 2014-2016 (CVR staff awarded Ebola service medals).  

Our strategy is to develop and strengthen existing collaborations in key sites; we aim to improve both the local capacity for pathogen surveillance and the ability to respond rapidly to outbreaks.


Viral Disease surveillance: the threat and the response

Viruses represent a serious threat to human health. The ongoing pandemic of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19/SARS2) highlights the risk to global health posed by emerging viruses and the need for better control strategies. Ebola, Zika, yellow fever, influenza, chikungunya and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) viruses also present an ongoing risk.  Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are hotspots for such infections, many of which are becoming more likely to cross from animals / insects to humans as a result of changes in ecology caused by deforestation and the impact of global warming.

New genetic sequencing techniques have resulted in an enormous growth in the number of viruses whose genetic sequences have been identified (many of these sequences have been published by the CVR). However, as many as 200,000 mammalian viruses are yet to be classified and categorised.

Our focus is on catching viruses at the point that they cross over from animals/insects into the human population and cause disease. In order to do this, we work with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa to monitor patients who present with fever at selected hospitals and healthcare centres.  We are concentrating our efforts predominantly on the Central-East African region where long-term collaborations are in place in Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya.

A developing collaboration with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) may soon extend the reach of the CVR into Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Laos.