Communicable diseases

EU laboratory cooperation

Serious threats such as pandemic influenza can affect multiple countries, and action at EU-level is required in order to diagnose and detect the pathogens. In such cases, laboratories across the EU need to work together, so that risks can be assessed and health threats managed effectively.

Reference laboratories for human pathogens

Many EU countries have "national reference laboratories", specialised in specific pathogens and chosen for excellence in their specific field of activity. They provide high-quality surveillance and diagnostics of various human pathogens – infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria that cause diseases in humans.

EU role

The EU helps member states strengthen their national laboratory capacity and is examining ways to help national human-pathogen labs network better at EU level.

The Commission, the EU Network for epidemiological surveillance and control of communicable diseases , the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Consumers, Health and Food Executive Agency (Chafea) work closely with national governments to enhance Europe-wide surveillance of infectious diseases.

The EU Health Security Committee also helps improve laboratory cooperation and networking.

More information can be found in the 2011 Commission and ECDC position statement on human pathogen laboratories.


The Health Programmes 2003-08 and 2008-13 have:

  • made improving citizens’ health security the highest priority.
  • called for diagnostic cooperation between labs in EU member countries.
  • called for support for existing laboratories that are doing work relevant to EU efforts to set up a reference lab network.

Both ECDC and Chafea contribute to strengthening European laboratory cooperation and capacity building by supporting a wide range of EU-wide projects.


The Commission arranges exercises on specific laboratory issues to improve generic preparedness  and operational capacity building.


Public health authorities have set up several laboratory cooperation networks – covering specific health fields – both at EU level and between certain member countries.

The networks make it possible to share information rapidly, as well as monitor and diagnose health threats.