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Egypt suffers major foot-and-mouth outbreak

Urgent action is required to control a major outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and prevent its spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East

FAO has warned that the outbreak could have serious implications for food security in the region. With vaccines urgently needed, international and regional organisations are attempting to develop a regional action plan.

Essam Abdel Shakur, the head of Egypt's central quarantine service, was cited by the official MENA news agency as saying that 93,734 cattle are believed to have been hit by the disease since February, of which 9,022 have so far died. The highest rate of infection is in the Nile Delta region.

According to FAO's livestock census data, 6.3mn buffalo and cattle and 7.5mn sheep and goats are at risk in Egypt. Although foot-and-mouth disease has circulated in the country for some years, this is an entirely new introduction of a strain of the virus known as SAT2 that livestock have no immunity to.

Following a request by the Egyptian Government, an FAO emergency team was in the country last week assessing the situation with veterinary authorities. They jointly set up a first line of containment measures and the roll out of a national FMD control strategy. The strategy is focused on limiting the disease's spread by implementing biosecurity measures and by use of vaccination when available.

"We are working closely to support the government to bring the outbreak under control,” said Juan Lubroth, FAO's chief veterinary officer. β€œThe area around the Lower Nile Delta appears to be severely affected, while other areas in Upper Egypt and the west appear less so.”

In order to help prevent the spread of the virus, livestock attendants are urged to take a series of measures including: limiting animal movements and avoiding contact with animals from other farms; avoiding purchasing animals in the immediate term since they could have come from contaminated sources; and properly disposing of carcasses preferably by incineration or, failing that, by burying them.

Vaccines are in limited supply for the FMD virus now present in Egypt. The country has some reserves of its own vaccines, but these do not protect against the SAT2 strain, and Egypt could need regional support in mobilising effective ones.

Even if they become available quickly, vaccines sometimes take up to two weeks to confer immunity, so FAO is urging coordination at all levels of government to implement biosecurity measures to limit the spread of the disease.