The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today started a programme to train European laboratory staff on how to use nuclear-derived techniques to detect lumpy skin disease – a highly infectious cowpox virus spreading across the continent.
“Lumpy skin disease has always been considered exotic in Europe, therefore many laboratories in the region are not prepared to detect it, or to differentiate between its various strains,” said Giovanni Cattoli, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/IAEA joint Animal Protection and Health Laboratory, in a press release.
Traditionally common to Africa and Asia, lumpy skin disease emerged in Turkey in 2013 and has since rapidly spread through south-eastern Europe. The disease has been detected to date in six European countries – Greece, Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Albania and Montenegro – with new cases being reported weekly. With a cattle herd of around 87 million heads, the European Union would be severely affected.
The two week-long training course taking place at the joint FAO/IAEA laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, is held in response to Member States’ requests for urgent support in animal disease preparedness and control.
Thirty six participants from 22 European countries, mostly from central and east European countries, will learn to use such techniques as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and genetic sequencing, which can detect the virus within three hours and help trace its origin.
The early and accurate detection of the virus is essential to taking containment measures, such as imposing cattle movement restrictions and culling. At present, the growing global demand for vaccines to control the disease is challenging.
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected animals and contaminated products, as well as through flies and ticks. Although it does not pose a danger to humans, lumpy skin disease can spread between animals and farms, causing severe economic losses.
The disease is characterized by extensive skin lesions, and affects milk, beef and leather production. Since 2015, more than 600 outbreaks in Europe have been notified to the World Organization for Animal Health, resulting in the culling of over 10,000 animals as part of containment efforts.
Earlier this year, the IAEA, in cooperation with FAO, provided laboratory support and expertise in these techniques to Bulgaria to battle lumpy skin disease. The IAEA has also deployed PCR to help West Africa cope with the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and to Latin America during this year’s Zika virus emergency.