Leading the hunt for this year’s flu strains

Researchers from Cardiff University and the Public Health Wales NHS Trust are leading the world in identifying the flu strains that will circulate in Europe this winter.

With the development of new software, which examines samples taken from patients in hospitals and surgeries across Wales, the team are able to rapidly identify flu strains, putting Wales at the forefront of the global mapping of flu. Cardiff University reports the analysis software makes use of cutting edge genome sequencing approaches and is allowing the team to identify flu strains within twenty four hours. This means Rhyl, Neath, Penarth and Swansea sit alongside Hong Kong and New Mexico as locations providing the latest data to scientists tracking how flu spreads and evolves across the globe.

The research at Cardiff University, funded by the Welsh Government and Genomics Partnership Wales, with support from MRC and BBSRC, sits at the heart of a newly improved flu surveillance service within Public Health Wales.

Once collected, the data is instantly shared with organisations including the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Control and international research groups. The rapid sharing of the data is particularly helpful for organisations such as the World Health Organisation who are trying to track and forecast more accurately the circulating strains of flu, information which is also vital in developing the vaccine for next year’s flu season.

Dr Tom Connor, Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, said “During the current flu season Wales has submitted the vast majority of sequenced European isolates that have been received by international surveillance activities. Most of the cases we’ve seen so far are H1N1 – one of the four types of circulating influenza – and the information we are generating is key to forecasting – both locally and globally – how the flu might evolve over the course of this season. The impact of our rapid data sharing is not only going to be felt now – our data constitutes key information that will inform the development of next year’s flu vaccine as well. The speed at with which we are generating data has been noticed by colleagues at the WHO as well as in countries including the US, Switzerland and Germany. It has been phenomenal to see our work having an impact in Wales and more globally.”

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