Skip to main content

APHA's National and International Reference Laboratories

Image of six Canada geese flying in a group

APHA is designated a Reference Laboratory or Centre for a wide range of animal health science specialisms, 49 specialisms nationally and 23 specialisms internationally. This status means that APHA provides expert disease advice to control disease incursions into the UK, to advise countries globally on testing strategies and to act as a centre of excellence for disease research and diagnostic techniques.

Avian influenza

As a truly international organisation, the avian virology team at APHA hosts both the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) International reference laboratory (IRL), and the UK National reference laboratory (NRL) for Avian Influenza (AI). In doing so, APHA brings technical excellence to the global diagnostic field that is supported by active research with both applied and fundamental targets. Together, the influenza team underpin the UK capability and capacity in dealing with potential incursions of influenza with an emphasis on AI virus (AIV) and its potential threat to the UK poultry industry. This team provides expert disease advice on AI, both to ensure appropriate response to disease incursions into the UK, as well as to advise countries globally on testing strategies in line with the WOAH/FAO remit for AIV including regular contributions to the OIE Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals.

From a national perspective, the NRL at APHA undertakes statutory surveillance and risk assessments that can impact on policy and industry activities. The NRL acts as a technical and advisory hub for the UK, collaborating with other government laboratories, academic partners and industrial bodies giving guidance in policy requirements and AI research. To complement this, and to enable threat definition, the IRL links with over 50 countries globally to define the risk in country from this group of viruses as well as enable threat definition for viruses present in migratory birds that may bring these viruses to the UK.

In support of the NRL and IRL at APHA, a multidisciplinary team of scientists is present including pathologists, veterinary clinicians, geneticists, molecular biologists. These individuals bring a wealth of expertise in applied and fundamental research, diagnosis, epidemiology, risk analysis, husbandry, and welfare. As a whole the team delivers scientific outputs and veterinary advice to a broad range of stakeholders both in the UK and abroad.  The bespoke facilities at APHA enable studies with these viruses that are exotic to the UK, to be undertaken thus enabling research outputs of benefit to the global scientific community. APHAs influenza research and diagnostic activities complement each other to support a diverse understanding of susceptibility to disease, transmission, clinical presentation, pathogen-host interactions, virus survival in the environment, disease interventions, and appropriate diagnostic and surveillance initiatives.


FluGlobalNet is founded by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, to deliver new opportunities for the global community and is part of our outreach as an International Reference Laboratory (IRL) and the National Reference Laboratory for Avian Influenza, Animal (especially swine) Influenza and Newcastle Disease. Its aim is to facilitate information and science exchange on the above diseases forming a virtual network.

This network provides an interactive forum for laboratory specialists and other scientific professionals working in the area of veterinary public health with specific interest in animal influenza. It also provides a rapid way of disseminating some of the latest information at a global level to keep users at the forefront of knowledge for these continually evolving pathogens.

Further guidance and updates on the current avian influenza situation are also posted regularly on GOV.UK.

Testing capacity for AI

APHA has a varied portfolio of AI test procedures. These tests are globally accredited to UKAS:17025 quality standard and include the Intravenous pathogenicity index (IVPI), the haemagglutination inhibition test (HAIT), real time and conventional PCR (rRT-PCR and RT-PCR), virus isolation (VI) and sequencing technologies including both conventional and whole genome sequencing capabilities. The IRL, in conjunction with the NRL, prepare proficiency panels for in-country evaluation of testing capability that are currently shared with over 35 countries with linkages to more countries in endemic regions being made regularly for inclusion.  Quality systems within our diagnostic framework enable continual demonstration of test fitness-for-purpose in an environment of rapidly evolving viruses where viral strains adapt with respect to their genetic components.

The IRL holds one of the largest viral repositories globally having collected viral isolates through active collaboration for over 35 years. This repository continues to expand with new linkages being made constantly and acts as a resource both for local gain, through test development and research activities, as well as globally where isolates can be shared.