Israel works to create a buffer zone around Egypt and Gaza fearing rare strain of foot and mouth disease will spread.
With vaccines in short supply the Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations warn that animals should not be moved around Gaza to stop the spread of a new strain of foot and mouth disease. The UN body says international efforts need to step in to stop the virus from spreading further in the Middle East and North Africa.
Following outbreaks of the SAT2 strain of the virus in Egypt and Libya in February, fears that it might jump to neighboring areas were confirmed on 19 April when sick animals were detected in Rafah, a town in the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt. The SAT2 variant is new to the region, meaning that animals do not have any acquired resistance to it.
“Diseases simply do not respect international boundaries, and if FMD SAT2 reaches deeper into the Middle East it could spread throughout vast areas, threatening the Gulf countries – even southern and eastern Europe, and perhaps beyond,” said Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer and head of the organization’s Animal Health Service.
With vaccines against the SAT2 virus still in short supply, the priority at the moment is to limit animal movements to prevent its further spread, he said. Heightened surveillance of animal populations to quickly detect and respond to new outbreaks is also critical.
Movements of animals from the Nile Delta eastward through the Sinai Peninsula and north into the Gaza Strip have been deemed the highest risk for the spread of the SAT2 FMD virus strain into the wider Middle East region, where livestock are a major component of household food security.
Transmitted via the saliva of sick animals, the FMD virus can live outside a host for a long while and spreads easily via contaminated hay, stalls, trucks, shoes and clothing – even the hands of traders inspecting animals at market.
Another SAT2 virus strain was recently reported in cattle in Bahrain, but only at a quarantine centre. This emphasizes the importance of thorough inspection and prevention systems when dealing with imported plants, animals or other biological material.
Following official reports of the FMD SAT2 outbreaks in Egypt, Israel quickly implemented targeted vaccination along its southern borders to create a buffer zone of protection for animal herds most at risk.
Gaza Strip will be receiving an initial lot of 20 000 vaccine doses to protect its valuable cattle. An additional 40 000 doses will be made available as soon as possible for sheep and goats.
FMD, which affects most cloven-hoofed mammals, has devastating effects on meat and milk production and can cause mortalities among pregnant and young animals. It does not pose direct human health risks, but milk or meat from infected animals should not be consumed, as any livestock products entering the food chain should come only from healthy animals.
Image of vet checking cow from Shutterstock