New FMD strain threatens Middle East

By Melodie Michel

- Last updated on GMT

New FMD strain threatens Middle East
A novel strain of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) discovered in Egypt and Libya in February has now spread to the Gaza Strip, putting Gulf countries at risk, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warns.

FAO said the detection of FMD SAT2 in Rafah, a town in the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt, underscored the importance of intensifying animal movement controls to prevent the disease from spreading further, as vaccines remain in short supply.

“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 organisation’s Animal Health Service.

FAO deemed movements of animals from the Nile Delta eastward through the Sinai Peninsula and north into the Gaza Strip the highest risk for the spread of the SAT2 FMD virus strain into the wider Middle East region. It added that, SAT2 being a new strain, animals had not had time to develop resistance to it.

Gaza Strip will be receiving an initial lot of 20,000 vaccine doses to protect cattle in the affected region, and an additional 40,000 doses will be made available as soon as possible for sheep and goats. In the meantime, FAO is taking samples from sick animals in Libya to better characterise the virus and produce the most efficient vaccine, and negotiating sources for vaccines in case the situation worsens.

According to the organisation, another SAT2 virus strain was recently reported in cattle in Bahrain, but only at a quarantine centre. “This emphasises the importance of thorough inspection and prevention systems when dealing with imported plants, animals or other biological material,”​ FAO said.

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