Regional and global influenza laboratory networks

The regional influenza laboratory network is part of the WHO Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS) and is comprised of:

  • national influenza laboratories in 50 countries of the Region – 52 of which (in 41 Member States) are formally recognized by WHO as national influenza centres (NICs);
  • the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza (WHO CC) at the National Institute for Medical Research, London, United Kingdom;
  • 2 WHO H5 reference laboratories (the Institute Pasteur in Paris, France, and the Federal State Research Institution, State Research Centre for Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR, in Novosibirsk, Russian Federation);
  • the WHO Essential Regulatory Laboratory (ERL) at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, Potters Bar, United Kingdom.

National influenza centres (NICs)

NICs are national institutions designated by ministries of health and recognized by WHO for the purpose of participating in the work of the WHO GISRS. The main role of NICs is to conduct seasonal influenza surveillance and support WHO recommendations on annual vaccine composition.

NICs also alert WHO to unusual outbreaks of influenza or influenza-like illness, and to the detection of non-subtypable or low-reacting virus isolates using WHO diagnostic reagents provided through the GISRS. They are thus in the front-line in the response to outbreaks of emerging influenza viruses or other respiratory pathogens causing severe disease, such as avian influenza A(H5N1), A(H7N9) viruses and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

NICs in 30 countries of the European Union and European Economic Area also participate in the European Reference Laboratory Network for Human Influenza (ERLI-Net) of the European Influenza Surveillance Network (EISN), which is coordinated by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza (WHO CC)

There are 5 WHO collaborating centres for reference and research on influenza in the world. These centres receive influenza viruses from NICs around the world, conduct detailed antigenic and genetic analyses on the viruses and share the results with the submitting NIC and WHO.

These results form the basis for WHO recommendations on the composition of seasonal influenza vaccine for the northern and southern hemispheres each year. They also contribute to continuous global risk assessment to determine whether currently known influenza viruses have the potential to cause an influenza pandemic.

In collaboration with WHO/Europe, the WHO CC at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, United Kingdom, receives and analyses influenza viruses from the majority of NICs in the WHO European Region, provides training for NIC staff from around the European Region (on laboratory techniques and skills, including diagnosis, data analyses, risk assessment and other critical capacities), supports outbreak response and contributes to weekly and annual influenza surveillance reports.

The WHO Collaborating Centre for the Surveillance, Epidemiology and Control of Influenza at the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (Influenza Division of the National Center for Immunization and Other Respiratory Diseases) also prepares and distributes updated influenza reagent kits to all NICs and other collaborating laboratories each year. These kits, which include reference antisera and control antigens, are needed to identify circulating influenza A(H3N2), A(H1N1) and B viruses, and for serological testing. Reagents specific for avian influenza viruses like A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) are also available on request.

H5 Reference Laboratory Network

The WHO H5 Reference Laboratory Network was established in 2004 in response to the public health needs arising from avian influenza A(H5N1) infection in humans and the need to support laboratory pandemic preparedness.

The 5 laboratories in this Network contribute to influenza risk assessment and response by providing reliable laboratory diagnosis of influenza infection in humans, especially those suspected of being associated with avian influenza A(H5) viruses or other influenza viruses with pandemic potential.

WHO Essential Regulatory Laboratory (ERL)

The WHO ERL in the United Kingdom, 1 of 4 in the world, contributes to the production of safe and effective influenza vaccines through the selection and development of candidate vaccine viruses.  It is formally associated with the United Kingdom´s national regulatory agency and plays a critical role in developing, regulating and standardizing influenza vaccines.

WHO support for the network

WHO/Europe supports the regional influenza laboratory network by organizing annual influenza surveillance meetings and providing training, technical guidelines and external quality assurance programmes. It does this in cooperation with the WHO CC at the National Institute for Medical Research, London, United Kingdom, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and European Reference Laboratory Network for Human Influenza (ERLI-Net), and with input provided by experts from NICs in the Region.