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Press Release 98/10


Rome, February 20 -- The African cattle disease Trypanosomiasis is spreading rapidly in Brazil and Bolivia and could soon threaten ranches in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

This week FAO is sending an expert mission to the affected areas &endash; the Pantanal Region of Mato Grosso State in southern Brazil, and the adjacent Santa Cruz Department in Bolivia &endash; at the request of the two governments. The mission will also visit Paraguay, although the disease has not yet been confirmed there.

In Africa Trypanosomiasis is carried by the Tsetse fly and it has had a devastating effect on efforts to raise cattle, making it impossible in some areas. The disease reached French Guyana, in the north of Latin America, in the early part of this century and spread through the north Andean region. However, it was only in recent years, with the opening of roads through the Amazon basin, that it has affected the cattle-rich Mato Grosso.

The disease causes high fever, anaemia and loss of condition in cattle, as well as abortions in cows, and if not treated with drugs, generally proves fatal. Imported "exotic" species are much more vulnerable than indigenous breeds, which inherit a degree of tolerance to the disease.

Animal health experts at FAO said that the exact mechanism for the spread of the disease in Latin America, where the tsetse fly does not exist, was not known, but it was assumed that it was by blood-sucking insects, of which there are many species. The movements of cattle to and from markets and ports, and seasonally onto grazing lands such as the Pantanal flood plain, made the situation extremely difficult to control.

According to reports from Brazil, the disease is currently advancing at the rate of 1.3 kilometres a day and could represent a major threat to the vast cattle ranches in Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

The FAO mission is led by Dr Martin Hall, head of the Veterinary and Medical Entomology Unit of the British Museum in London. It has the task of drawing up proposals for a Plan of Action to help the authorities in the affected and threatened countries tackle the emergency. It is expected to identify strategies for controlling and containing the disease and make recommendations for coordinated regional action.

The Pantanal region has a cattle population of nearly four million beasts and there are a further 1.6 million in Santa Cruz. In some herds, as many as 40 percent of cattle have been affected by the disease.

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Contact John Riddle at (396) 5705-3259, or john for further information.





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