UN agency warns of increased foot-and-mouth threats after outbreaks in Asia

28 April 2010

Three recent incursions of foot-and-mouth disease in Japan and the Republic of Korea, which were officially free of such outbreaks, has led the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to issue a call today for increased global surveillance.

Three recent incursions of foot-and-mouth disease in Japan and the Republic of Korea, which were officially free of such outbreaks, has led the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to issue a call today for increased global surveillance.

“We are worried because the rigorous biosecurity measures in place in the two countries were overwhelmed, pointing to a recent, large-scale weight of infection in source areas, very probably in the Far East,” said FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer Juan Lubroth.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals, including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, which causes high fever and characteristic lesions in animals’ mouths and feet. Humans are not affected.

Mr. Lubroth noted that in the past nine years, incursions into officially FMD-free countries, as were Japan and the Republic of Korea, have been extremely rare.

“So to have three such events in four months is a serious cause for concern,” he said.

“We also have to ask ourselves if we aren’t facing a possible replay of the disastrous 2001 FMD transcontinental epidemic which spread to South Africa, the United Kingdom and Europe after earlier incursions in Japan and South Korea,” Mr. Lubroth added.

The estimated losses from the 2001 outbreak to agriculture, livestock trade and tourism were more than $12 billion in the UK alone. In addition, over six million sheep and cattle in the UK were slaughtered to prevent the disease from spreading.

According to an FAO news release, Japan veterinary authorities earlier this month confirmed an outbreak of type “O” FMD virus, currently more common in Asian countries where FMD is endemic.

The Republic of Korea was hit by the rarer type “A” FMD in January and then suffered type “O” infection in April, the Rome-based agency added.

FAO said the routes taken by the virus have not been identified, but it is possible the infection occurred through food waste, with pigs eating infected meat scraps.

In their initial response to the outbreak, Japan has slaughtered 385 animals, including buffaloes, cattle and pigs, while the Republic of Korea has destroyed more than 3,500 animals, mostly pigs.

Mr. Lubroth said that under the circumstances all countries are at risk and recommended a review of preventive measures and response capacity, including a re-examination of possible routes of entry and measures to enforce controls, and more rigorous checks at ports and airports.

 

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