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New FMD strain threatens North Africa

The detection of a new case of a novel strain of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in Gaza strip stresses the importance of intensifying international efforts to stop the virus from spreading further in North Africa and the Middle East, the FAO said

Following outbreaks of the SAT2 strain of the virus in Egypt and Libya in February 2012, fears that it might jump to neighbouring areas were confirmed on April 19 when sick animals were detected in Rafah, a town in the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt.

The SAT2 variant is new to the region, meaning that animals do not have any acquired resistance to it.

Juan Lubroth, FAO chief veterinary officer and head of the organisation's Animal Health Service, said, “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.”

With vaccines against the SAT2 virus still in short supply, the priority at the moment is to limit animal movements to prevent its further spread, he said. Heightened surveillance of animal populations to quickly detect and respond to new outbreaks is also critical.

Movements of animals from the Nile Delta eastward through the Sinai Peninsula and north into the Gaza Strip have been deemed the highest risk for the spread of the SAT2 FMD virus strain into the wider Middle East region, where livestock are a major component of household food security.

FAO said it would send an extra 40,000 vaccine doses to Gaza as soon as possible and was negotiating with producers “in the event of further spread of foot-and-mouth disease and a worsening of the current disease”. It said Israel had already implemented a targeted vaccination programme.

Transmitted via the saliva of sick animals, the FMD virus can live outside a host for a long while and spreads easily via contaminated hay, stalls, trucks, shoes and clothing—even the hands of traders inspecting animals at market.