Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance group

The Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group identifies and assesses emerging infection risks to human health.

Role of group

The Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group is a multi-agency cross-government horizon scanning and risk assessment group. Its work cuts across several organisations, including UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Public Health Wales (PHW), Public Health Scotland (PHS), Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Welsh Government and Scottish Government.

The group has met every month since February 2004 and acts as a forum to identify and discuss infections with potential for interspecies transfer (particularly zoonotic infections). The work of the HAIRS group is described in a series of reports.

A system of horizon scanning is used to identify emerging and potentially zoonotic infections which may pose a threat to UK public health. The multidisciplinary nature of the HAIRS group enables it to assess horizon scanning reports in an objective and scientific manner.

If infections are thought to be of potential significance, they are included in the ‘Infectious Disease Surveillance and Monitoring System for Animal and Human Health: Summary of notable events and incidents of public health significance’, which is produced monthly.

See the Emerging Infections Summaries.

Membership (2020-2021)

Animal and Plant Health Agency

  • Alan Wight
  • Carmen Marco
  • Iain Bell
  • Kate Newton
  • Paul Duff
  • Steve Wyllie

Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

  • Elaine Dickson

Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine

  • June Fanning
  • Damien Barrett

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  • Helen Roberts (Chair)
  • Lara Harrup

Infrastructure, Housing and Environment, Government of Jersey

  • Alistair Breed

Department of Health and Social Care

  • Emma Stapley

Food Standards Agency

  • Tina Potter

Isle of Man Government

  • Amy Beckett

Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland

  • Philip Veal

UK Health Security Agency

  • Jolyon Medlock
  • Katherine Russell
  • Kevin Brown
  • Michael Reynolds

Public Health Scotland

  • Dominic Mellor

Public Health Wales

  • Robert Smith

Scottish Government

  • Rebecca Miller

States Veterinary Officer, Bailiwick of Guernsey

  • David Chamberlain

Welsh Government

  • Gosia Siwonia

Terms of reference

The scope of the group covers England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The terms of reference of this group are regularly reviewed but are currently (March 2021):

Hazard identification

  1. To identify and review zoonotic or potentially zoonotic or interspecies infectious incidents which may pose a change in risk to animal or human health in the UK, whether these are acute clusters or outbreaks or increasing trends in reports of known or new infections or syndromes.
  2. These incidents are identified using a variety of sources through indicator and event-based surveillance and can be occurring or have occurred within or outside the UK.
  3. Each HAIRS member is responsible for raising any potentially significant incidents identified through their own organisations surveillance systems.
  4. The timeframe for alerting the HAIRS Chair and other members is dependent on the perceived threat.
  5. If the incident discussed falls within the remit of another group (for example issues relating to antimicrobial resistance or food-borne infections), the HAIRS group will ensure that the relevant group is aware and considering the event.

Risk assessment

  1. If an infectious incident or trend has been identified, then the group discusses whether there might be a risk of interspecies transfer (if it has not occurred to date), or what risk this incident presents to the health of the UK public. The HAIRS risk assessment processes are published on GOV.UK.
  2. If a member of the group considers an incident to potentially be of high public health significance, then the HAIRS group will be convened as rapidly as possible to discuss the implications of the event, ensuring all the relevant agencies are informed and that appropriate actions are being considered.
  3. Members of the HAIRS group will escalate and inform as necessary, and act as focus through which concerns of their respective agencies or groups can be considered by the group.
  4. Risk assessment is performed using the expertise within the group or with the relevant subject matter experts in other government departments, agencies or academia (within or outside the UK).
  5. Incidents brought to the attention of the group and considered to be of low public health importance can be recorded as such in the minutes, without necessarily being forwarded to a specific risk manager or group. If a risk assessment cannot be completed due to lack of available evidence, the group may issue a statement of risk with the available evidence and keep the issue under review until further evidence is attained or the hazard is taken up by another more appropriate group.
  6. Prior to the completion of any risk assessment, the final document must be reviewed and signed off by at least one member of each organisation represented on the HAIRS group.
  7. Whenever possible, risk assessments undertaken by the HAIRS group will be published on the GOV.UK HAIRS collection page.

Depending on the outcome of the risk assessment process, the HAIRS group may act as risk managers (rarely) or refer issues to other groups for risk management action (generally).

  1. For issues assessed as low risk or where direct action is not warranted, the group may ‘sign off’ or ‘risk manage’ the incident or continue to monitor the situation and reassess the risk at appropriate intervals.
  2. For incidents assessed as having a potentially significant threat to public health, the group will alert within their own and any other relevant groups or organisations to the situation and the need for risk management action as they see fit. Members of the group will act as points of contact for the organisations responsible for risk management. The HAIRS group then will not act as risk managers but may contribute advice and expertise to the risk management process.

Risk communication

Routine

  1. The group will contribute to the UKHSA produced monthly Infectious disease surveillance and monitoring system for animal and human health: Summary of notable events and incidents of public health significance. Members are responsible for assessing any reported incidents and informing their government departments or agencies of significant potential threats.
  2. The group will also be responsible for writing up, approving, and communicating conclusions and recommendations of any expert qualitative risk assessment completed by the group. Such information will be communicated to the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP) and the UK Zoonoses and Animal Diseases and Infections Group (UKZADI), the latter specifically only when there are implications for action.

Escalation of issues

  1. HAIRS members each take individual responsibility for the appropriate reporting of significant incidents or issues to their organisation or department. If multiple organisations or departments need to be informed, a collaborative and simultaneous communication will occur.