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3rd Meeting of the 203rd Session (2023-2024)

The past, present and possible future of bird flu

Professor Paul Digard

Professor Paul Digard

Professor Paul Digard
Chair of Virology and Deputy Director
The Roslin Institute
University of Edinburgh

On Monday 27th November 2023, at 7pm

The oldest living humans on the planet have lived through seven viral pandemics; of which, six have been caused by influenza A virus, all descended at greater or lesser remove from avian influenza, or "bird flu". Currently, much of the world is afflicted by the largest known epizootic outbreak of H5N1 bird flu. Spread across at least 5 continents, the virus is killing large numbers of wild birds, domestic poultry and spilling over into wild and domesticated mammals, often fatally. Thankfully, it currently is not infecting humans in any appreciable numbers but nevertheless, presents a serious threat for causing another pandemic. This talk will attempt to explain the evolution and ecology of bird flu and thus why it poses such a threat to human and animal health, as well as assessing the current situation and describing interventions and possible outcomes.

Paul Digard is a career virologist, trained at Cambridge and Harvard Universities before setting up his own research group in Cambridge in the 1990s and then moving to Edinburgh in 2012. He has studied a variety of viruses, but specialises in influenza, where his research into molecular aspects of the virus has led to rewritten text books, patents on antivirals and vaccine technology and advice to the NHS and government bodies. The aspect of his career that he is proudest of though, is the training of a substantial body of future scientists – over 50 PhD students and a sizable cohort of the next generation of independent researchers.