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Risk to UK livestock and horses from insect- and tick-borne diseases

26 July 2010

The Institute for Animal Health (IAH), an institute of the BBSRC, in partnership with the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA), has been awarded £90,000 by Defra to analyse the threat posed to UK livestock and horses from insect- and tick-borne viruses, and the UK's capability to respond to these threats.

These viruses are highly responsive to environmental change, as illustrated by the recent emergence of bluetongue virus in Europe and West Nile virus in the US. Whilst some of these viruses cause only mild disease or would be unlikely to spread in the UK, others could result in the deaths of tens of thousands of animals - such as African horse sickness virus, which kills up to 90% of the horses it infects.

The scientists will identify the greatest threats to the UK and produce an up-to-date inventory of national facilities and expertise. They will also highlight areas where knowledge is lacking, and suggest priorities for future research. This is in line with Defra's "Evidence Investment Strategy" of using scientific evidence to identify emerging issues and to support decision-making.

The six-month project, which has just begun, is led by Dr Anthony Wilson (IAH) and Professor Tony Fooks (VLA).


About IAH

The IAH delivers high quality fundamental, strategic and applied science focussed on infectious diseases of farm animals. This knowledge is used to advance veterinary science, and to enhance the sustainability of livestock farming. The study of viruses spread by insects and ticks is a major programme of research within the IAH. In addition to research output the IAH provides diagnostic services for a number of diseases and gives expert advice to the UK government and international agencies. The IAH is the Reference Laboratory for bluetongue, on behalf of Defra, the EU and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) :

About VLA

VLA delivers world-class veterinary research and surveillance for the Government and animal health industry to safeguard public and animal health. It is an executive agency of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) with a regional network of 16 veterinary laboratories and a central research facility near Weybridge in Surrey.

One of VLA's key functions is the surveillance, detection and control of exotic, zoonotic and emerging diseases in farmed animals. Other services include animal health related research, specialised testing, epidemiology and risk assessment to support policy-making. It also maintains an emergency response capability to ensure protection from disease outbreaks.

VLA is a national and international reference laboratory for many diseases including avian influenza, rabies, bovine tuberculosis, classical swine fever and TSEs. It is also responsible for the surveillance and research activities of many arboviruses (arthropod-borne viruses); both endemic and exotic. The Agency works in partnership with universities and institutes across the world in providing expert advice and consultancy.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

External contact

Dave Cavanagh, IAH Press Office

tel: 01635 577241
mob: 07789 941568