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. The Virology Unit is a Reference Laboratory for both equine influenza and equine herpesvirus (EHV), making it just one of two in the world for both diseases.

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 anemia (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. The Head of the Unit teaches at the University of Limerick and University College Dublin and supervises MSc and Ph.D. projects. Research funding provided by the Department of Agriculture and other bodies facilitated the introduction of improved diagnostic techniques, vaccine studies, and virus characterization. Molecular epidemiology has served the industry well in tracing the origins of certain viruses.

Many of the virus disease investigations are carried out for the common good and are heavily dependent on subsidies. 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.