FAO warns of global foot-and-mouth outbreak

UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warns that foot-and-mouth disease could become endemic in countries around the world

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is warning that the highly infectious nature of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) could cause epidemics in countries around the world. According to the FAO, the FMD situation in many parts of the world has improved in the last 20 or 30 years. However, FMD is still endemic in many countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America.

In an effort to stop the spread of the disease, the FAO recommends that countries most exposed to the risk of infection should:

  • Step up surveillance measures
  • Enforce strict border controls
  • Develop contingency plans, i.e. destruction schemes and provision for emergency vaccination

A "stamping out" policy is the best method to eradicate FMD, according to FAO. Vaccination should only be used when the number of outbreaks is so overwhelming that the "stamping out" method would bring about operational and public acceptance problems. In addition, a vaccination scheme would only protect livestock against one strain of the virus. There are seven know viruses that cause FMD.

The current outbreak of FMD in Europe is called serotype O of the pan-Asian strain. The strain was first detected in 1990 in Northern India. Since then, the strain has demonstrated its ability to travel vast distances when it was later discovered in South Africa in September 2000 and eventually the UK in February 2001.

The FAO European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth (EUFMD) will meet on 21-23 March in Rome to discuss the current outbreak and advise countries.

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