FMD outbreak in Egypt has world on alert

Melissa WilliamsCountryman
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A new strain of foot and mouth disease (FMD) that has broken out in Egypt and killed thousands of animals poses a low risk to Australian livestock producers, according to the nation's peak animal health body.

Animal Health Australia chief executive Michael Bond said Australia was relatively secure against a direct spread of the disease compared to some other parts of the world, but needed to remain vigilant to ensure it stayed out.

He said the SAT2 FMD virus spreading through Egypt was an unusual strain that researchers did not know a lot about and vaccines for older strains would not be effective against it.

Up to 40,000 cases of SAT2 FMD are suspected in Egypt and it is estimated to have killed 5000 animals, mostly calves. It is estimated another 6.3 million cattle and buffalo and 7.5 million sheep and goats are at risk of contracting the disease there.

The virus has caused serious production losses, lower farm incomes and higher food prices in Egypt, further exacerbating the country's deteriorating economic conditions.

Dr Bond said there was an urgent need to stop the spread of the strain of the disease throughout northern Africa and the Middle East.

"Australia is not particularly at a direct risk of SAT2 because of our isolation and well tested contingency plans but the Egypt outbreak is significant on a global scale and poses an increased risk to all countries that produce and export livestock," he said.

Australia has successfully kept FMD out for 130 years but the disease has been known to spread and establish in formerly FMD-free countries.

A FMD outbreak in the UK in 2001 caused livestock and production losses worth $19 billion.

At that time, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences estimated that a significant year-long outbreak of FMD in Australia would cause losses of about $16 billion.

Dr Bond said any outbreak in this country would immediately shut down overseas markets for Australian livestock and livestock products and it was one of the biggest risks to the local red meat industry.

He said AHA was co-ordinating an industry review of the AUSVETPLAN Disease Strategy for FMD, which concentrated on controlling and eradicating the disease to restore Australia's FMD-free status as quickly as possible in the event of an outbreak.

"This is a review of our response policy, including the use of vaccinations in an emergency and containing movement of stock and livestock products," he said.

The review is expected to be ready for consideration by the Primary Industries Ministerial Council in October.

Dr Bond said AHA maintained a FMD vaccine bank in the UK that was reviewed regularly and updated depending on the levels of risk arising from global outbreaks.

"We keep tabs on what's happening in all overseas countries where FMD is endemic and, based on that information, we will add serotypes to the bank," he said.

"There is currently no vaccine for the SAT2 strain in Egypt, so we need to keep a close eye on research and developments as these come to hand."

Dr Bond said restrictions on bringing live viruses into Australia meant Australia's FMD vaccine work was being carried out in Argentina, Vietnam and South Africa under supervision of the CSIRO.

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