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The threat posed by emerging and re-emerging communicable diseases and, more recently, by the intentional release of infectious agents in a susceptible population, has been receiving considerable attention at the national and international levels. Public health efforts to strengthen disease detection, surveillance and control have been intensified. However, clinicians and clinical microbiology laboratories play an important role in the early detection of disease, the identification of the putative agent, and notification of the appropriate authorities. To be effective in this role, laboratories must be specially prepared to handle viral agents safely, and need, among other things, the appropriate rapid and sensitive diagnostic tests. In 1998 the European Network for Diagnostics of “Imported” Viral Diseases (ENIVD) was established. ENIVD presently comprises, as permanent members, 44 expert laboratories in 21 European Union (EU) member states and 4 non-EU countries and is one of the networks on infectious diseases funded by the European Commission. ENIVD fulfils many of the important tasks required for the surveillance and control of imported, rare and emerging viral infections such as the exchange of expertise and the organisation of external quality assurance (EQA) programmes, both of which are needed to improve diagnostics. Here, we summarise the data generated by recent EQA activities focussed on the diagnostics of infections with hantavirus, dengue virus, filovirus, Lassa virus, orthopox virus and the SARS-coronavirus (SARS-CoV). These were carried out between 1999 and 2004 and involved 93 laboratories from 41 countries, including laboratories from additional countries outside of Europe. Particularly the EU-candidate countries and Eastern neighbouring countries will be invited to join the network in the near future. A public website is available at http://www.enivd.de.


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