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The Virology Unit is the only dedicated equine virology laboratory in Ireland and fills a role similar to that of the Virus Reference Laboratory for human health. Regarded as an important national asset, the Unit is the only OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) reference laboratory in the Republic of Ireland and one of four in the world for equine influenza. Since its establishment in 1987, the Unit aims to protect the industry from financial loss due to endemic viral disease or the introduction of exotic viruses. The ability of the Unit to respond to a disease crisis rapidly and effectively was demonstrated after incursions of equine arteritis virus (EAV) and equine infectious anaemia (EIA) virus when high throughput testing ensured that the normal business of the horse industry including sales, breeding and racing continued.

The Virology Unit offers a comprehensive service to all sections of the Irish horse industry. Veterinary surgeons avail of the diagnostic service and professional advice on the prevention and management of viral diseases. Breeders avail of the expertise of the Virology Unit to investigate outbreaks of venereal disease, abortion and paralysis and for advice on the implementation of the ITBA Code of Practice. Trainers of racehorses and performance horses use the service to investigate outbreaks of respiratory disease and loss of performance, and to monitor vaccine efficacy.

Education and research are also areas in which the Virology Unit plays a prominent role. In 2011 the OIE funded an official twinning between the Virology Unit and the Harbin National Veterinary Institute of China. Each year scientists from China and other countries visit the Unit for training in diagnostic techniques. The Head of the Unit teaches in the University of Limerick and University College Dublin and supervises MSc and PhD projects. Research funding provided by the Department of Agriculture and other bodies facilitated the introduction of improved diagnostic techniques, vaccine studies and virus characterisation. Molecular epidemiology has served the industry well in the tracing of the origins of certain viruses.

Many of the virus disease investigations are carried out for the common good and are heavily dependent on subsidy. The Virology Unit is GLP (Good Laboratory Practice) and ISO17025 accredited and contributes to the underwriting of the equine service by testing diagnostic samples from other species and performing contract work for vaccine and pharmaceutical companies. The Unit is a designated laboratory for the bovine virus diarrhoea (BVD) eradication programme.