Customers & Industries: Royal Veterinary College

Royal Veterinary College Uses @RISK to Combat Avian Flu

  • Industry: Medical/Biomedical
  • Product(s): @RISK
  • Application: Disease Prevention

Summary

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in the UK used @RISK to quantify risks associated with various avian flu diseases, in order to determine appropriate activity to prevent the spreading of infection.

Palisade is the Microsoft of risk analysis software and is therefore the only real solution for the RVC for this particular question. We deal with issues that have significant health risks to animals and humans, as well as economic impact, and it is critical therefore that our supporting software is powerful, sophisticated and flexible, in addition to producing highly accurate figures.
Dr. Dirk Pfeiffer, Population Biology and Disease Control, Royal Veterinary College

Founded in 1792, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK’s largest vet school and one of the most highly regarded veterinary research centres in Europe. Its Population Biology and Disease Control research group is focused on improving understanding of the factors that influence animal health, and using this knowledge to develop new measures to control and prevent the occurrence of dangerous and infectious diseases, many of which have implications for food safety and human health.

Epidemiology and Risk

A key element of the work undertaken by this research group revolves around risk—both in terms of the actual risk associated with animal diseases, as well as the risk related to the way in which they are spread and how likely this is to happen. Studies include low-alert, domestic issues, such as whether feeding an animal a certain type of food will increase the chance of it developing a particular disease. They also span the nationwide, headline-hitting illnesses such as avian flu, tuberculosis and foot and mouth disease.

The RVC's risk-focused approach is underpinned by its core discipline of epidemiology - the study of factors affecting the health and illness of populations. Based on the observation that most diseases do not occur randomly, but are related to environmental and personal characteristics that vary by place, time, and subgroup of the species, epidemiology is therefore closely linked to risk analysis. In this context, it attempts to determine who is prone to a particular disease; where risk of the disease is highest; when the disease is most likely to occur and its trends over time; what exposure its victims have in common; how much the risk is increased through exposure; and how many cases of the disease could be avoided by eliminating the exposure.

@RISK Provides Perspective

The RVC's epidemiology skills enable it to identify and understand the risks associated with specific diseases. However, in order to determine appropriate activity to prevent infections spreading, the RVC must quantify the risks it has outlined. To do this it uses @RISK software from Palisade. Excel-compatible, @RISK uses Monte Carlo analysis to show all potential scenarios, as well as the likelihood that each will occur, thereby providing the decision-maker with the most complete picture possible.

The RVC's professional expertise establishes exactly what factors must be taken into account for each potential scenario. It then uses this information to undertake risk analysis with @RISK so that it can advise on activity and strategies to reduce the risks associated with a particular disease.

The Real Risk of Avian Flu

Avian flu, with its high media profile, is a useful illustration of how the RVC is able to assist in containing something that is widely perceived as highly threatening due to its status as a 'new' disease and therefore unknown entity. In this capacity the RVC assists the European Commission to determine the risk that the disease will come to Europe. @RISK plays a critical role in the RVC's work.

A pivotal question that the RVC must answer is: how likely it is that a migratory bird coming to the UK will be infected. The many aspects that influence this are fed into an @RISK model that the RVC has developed for this purpose. For example, how prevalent is the disease in that particular species of bird and how many birds will actually migrate? The likelihood of the migratory birds coming into contact with domestic birds, for example a free-range chicken, must also be factored in – many birds are more likely to remain on wetland areas where birds congregate and therefore only mix with other wild birds. Temperature must also be accounted for as viruses survive longer in the cold.

Much of this analysis requires the RVC's extensive specialist knowledge, and its experience and understanding of biological relationships and behaviours and how the 'system' operates. Professor Dirk Pfeiffer, leader of the RVC's Population Biology and Disease Control research group, explains: “Some species of wild birds don't mix with others and therefore pose less threat of spreading the disease. Equally, different breeds of birds move round at different times of year, which has a bearing on whether they will come into contact with birds that are potentially infected. In-depth knowledge of factors like these enables us to take a rational approach to situations that, at a surface level, have the potential to spiral out of control.”

@RISK Supports Specialist Knowledge

The RVC's human expertise is supplemented with Palisade's technology. Calculations of the risk factors influencing the spread of avian flu to the UK result in an outcome figure that determines the course of action that needs to be taken. For example, slaughtering poultry on and around infected farms is the most drastic resolution. However, if the @RISK model indicates that the chance of that particular episode of avian flu spreading is very low, it may not be necessary and a strategy of ensuring the poultry are not moved around can be adopted instead.

@RISK for Accuracy

Professor Pfeiffer, who has used @RISK for many years, concludes: “Palisade is the Microsoft of risk analysis software and is therefore the only real solution for the RVC for this particular question. We deal with issues that have significant health risks to animals and humans, as well as economic impact, and it is critical therefore that our supporting software is powerful, sophisticated and flexible, in addition to producing highly accurate figures. @RISK ensures that we provide the various bodies that depend on our knowledge and experience with the best possible solution available to them.”

About the RVC

One of the University of London's 18 independent colleges, the RVC is the UK's longest-established vet school. It is committed to innovation and maintaining its position at the forefront of veterinary research and practice, and prides itself on the international quality of its research work.

The RVC's research is divided into five themes: musculoskeletal biology; reproduction, genes and development; cardiovascular and inflammation biology; animal welfare: and infection and immunity. The Population Biology and Disease Control research group operates within the latter.

As a result of its studies, the Population Biology and Disease Control research group provides advice and undertakes committee duties related to animal health and welfare issues to various governmental departments and organisations at a national, European and international level.

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