The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today notified veterinary and border authorities in Asia of a major outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the Republic of Korea, urging them to be on the look-out for livestock showing signs of infection by the highly contagious animal disease.
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) affects cloven-hoofed animals, including cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, causing high fever. It is characteristic by lesions in animals' mouths and feet. The disease does not affect humans.
FAO said that the Republic of Korea has since late November last year imposed quarantines, initiated a vaccination campaign that is targeting nine million pigs and three million heads of cattle, and culled 2.2 million livestock.
The overall cost of the FMD control effort in the Republic of Korea is estimated at about $1.6 billion, according to FAO, which described the outbreak as “unprecedented.”
“The current FMD dynamics in eastern Asia, as well as the magnitude of the outbreak in South Korea, are unlike anything that we've seen for at least a half century,” said Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer. “This makes preparedness and monitoring extremely important right now.
“Authorities in Asia should make sure they are in a position to detect any instances of the disease and respond rapidly in an appropriate way. FAO is advocating proactive vaccination campaigns designed to stop the spread of the disease,” said Mr. Lubroth.
Subhash Morzaria, the Asia Regional Manager of FAO's Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease Operations, said the outbreak must be tackled as a regional problem.
He said the agency's regional office for Asia and the Pacific is planning a meeting of chief veterinary officers of East Asian countries to discuss the current situation and coordinate the response.
Mr. Lubroth noted that when responding to outbreaks, countries should adhere to accepted practices that adequately take animal welfare and environmental impacts into account.
FAO said that media reports of an FMD outbreak in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) have not been confirmed by authorities there.
According to the agency, foot-and-mouth disease spread through China in recent years and entered eastern regions of Russia and Mongolia for the first time. The disease recently affected an estimated 1.5 million Mongolian gazelles, whose migration may have helped carry the virus into China. FAO sent an emergency response team to Mongolia to help authorities cope with the disease.
Mr. Lubroth said that overall, the situation in Asia is a cause for concern, given the approaching Lunar New Year holiday during which large numbers of people will be on the move in the region, many of them carrying meat and some transporting animals.
One of the early signs of the disease in infected animals is the excessive production of saliva and nasal discharges. The FMD virus may survive for several hours outside the infected animal, especially in cold and humid environments.