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FAO Alert Over Outbreak Of Foot-and-mouth Disease In Middle East

The United Nations food agency has called for increased efforts to stop foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) from spreading in the Middle East and North Africa after a new case of the disease was detected in the Gaza Strip.

"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," the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Chief Veterinary Officer and head of its Animal Health Service, Juan Lubroth, said in a press release on Wednesday.

FMD is an infectious and sometimes fatal viral disease that affects most cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, among others. It has devastating effects on meat and milk production and can cause casualties among pregnant and young animals. Although it does not pose a direct human health risk, meat and milk from sick animals are unsafe for consumption.

In February, outbreaks of the virus' SAT2 strain were identified in Egypt and Libya, and fears that it may spread to neighboring areas were confirmed two weeks ago when sick animals were detected in Rafah, a town in the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt.

According to FAO, the SAT2 strain is new to the region, which means that animals have not acquired resistance to it. FMD is transmitted via the saliva of sick animals and can live outside a host for a long time, as well as spread easily via contaminated hay, stalls, trucks, shoes, clothing, and even the hands of traders inspecting animals at market.

Lubroth stressed that as vaccines against SAT2 virus are still in short supply, it is important to limit animal movements to prevent the diseases from spreading further.

Transporting animals from the Nile Delta eastward through the Sinai Peninsula and north into the Gaza Strip has been deemed by FAO as the highest risk for the spread of the virus into the wider Middle East region, where livestock are a major component of household food security.

FAO said the Gaza Strip will receive an initial lot of 20,000 vaccine doses to protect its cattle, and that it would provide an additional 40,000 doses as soon as possible for sheep and goats.

FAO has also been developing a regional response plan in consultation with countries at risk from the spread of the SAT2 strain and has facilitated a series of meetings among veterinary officials from the Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe to coordinate actions. In addition, it has provided technical support to Egypt so it can manage its SAT2 epidemic and is training veterinarians from the region to take virus samples and diagnosing the SAT2 strain.

by RTT Staff Writer

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