The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Thursday warned of a major new foot-and-mouth (FMD) outbreak in Egypt which could threaten the whole of North Africa and the Middle East.
“Urgent action is required ... to prevent its spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, which could have serious implications for food security in the region,” the U.N. agency warned in a statement, according to AFP.
In Egypt, official estimates speak of more than 40,000 suspected cases, with more than 4,600 animals, mostly calves, already dead.
While foot-and-mouth disease has circulated in Egypt for some years “this is an entirely new introduction of a virus strain known as SAT2, and livestock have no immune protection against it,” FAO said.
“With vaccines urgently needed, international and regional organizations are at the ready to assist in developing a regional prevention, preparedness and action plan,” the organization added.
The U.N. body said it was working with the government in Egypt to bring the outbreak under control.
“The area around the Lower Nile Delta appears to be severely affected, while other areas in Upper Egypt and the west appear less so,” according to Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer.
Farmers have been urged to limit animal movement, avoid buying animals, and to burn or bury the carcasses of dead animals.
According to FAO’s livestock census data, 6.3 million buffalo and cattle and 7.5 million sheep and goats are at risk in Egypt.
Vaccines for the new virus strain are currently in limited supply and vaccination often takes up to two weeks to confer immunity, FAO said, while urging anti-contamination measures.
“The area around the Lower Nile Delta appears to be severely affected, while other areas in Upper Egypt and the west appear less so,” Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinary Officer, said, calling for strong action to prevent the spread of the disease, according to Reuters.
FMD is a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, buffalo and pigs. FMD is not a direct threat to humans.
Meat and milk from sick animals are unsafe for consumption, not because FMD affects humans, but because foodstuffs entering the food chain should only come from animals that are known to be healthy, the FAO said.
With vaccines sometimes taking up to two weeks to confer immunity, joint efforts to boost biosecurity measures to limit the spread of the disease are urgently needed, said the FAO whose emergency team visited Egypt last week.
Such measures include 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, preferably by burning carcasses.