The European Reference Laboratory Network for Human Influenza (ERLI-Net) was established in 2003 to formalise the network of collaborating national influenza reference laboratories participating in the European Influenza Surveillance Scheme (EISS). Until June 2013, it was called the Community Network of Reference Laboratories for Human Influenza in Europe (CNRL).
From 1 September 2008, the coordination of influenza surveillance activities was transferred from EISS to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) with the network being renamed European Influenza Surveillance Network (EISN). The main tasks of EISN are to report on the influenza activity in the community by analysing routine epidemiological and virological data reported by Member States and to contribute to improving surveillance and laboratory preparedness for seasonal and pandemic influenza. The concept of the CNRL set up under the EISS project was retained in the new EISN programme to focus on further developing influenza reference laboratories cooperation.
The ERLI-Net laboratory network comprises of nominated expert representatives from laboratories within all EU Member States and two EEA countries (Norway and Iceland) (Figure 1).
The main objective of the network is to carry out virological surveillance of human influenza and ensure that data are shared through EISN reporting mechanisms in a timely manner. Of the EU Member States and EEA countries that comprise the ERLI-Net network, only Cyprus has a national influenza reference centre not recognised by WHO as a National Influenza Centre (NIC).
Since 2008, ECDC has outsourced the laboratory activities of the network through a call for tender to a Coordination Group made up of a consortium representing three European Institutes:
- the Health Protection Agency (HPA), London (Professor Maria Zambon),
- the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), The Netherlands (Dr Adam Meijer), and
- the WHO Collaborating Centre (WHO CC), MRC National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), London (Dr Rod Daniels and Dr John McCauley).
Mechanisms of working
The ERLI-Net Coordination Group has aimed to capitalise on the expert experience within network laboratories by continuing to use dedicated Task Groups
to complete specific activities. This model of working has facilitated discussion, enhanced working relationships within the network by sharing best practices and harmonising technical approaches, and ensured inclusivity. The ERLI-Net Task Groups participate in regular teleconferences and a face-to-face meeting each autumn. A wider meeting of all EISN virologists takes place once a year at the EISN Annual General Meeting.