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Press Release 99/18


Rome, 6 April 1999.- The highly contagious livestock disease, known as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), could spread into Russia and other parts of Europe if tough prevention measures are not put in place in the Community of Independent States and neighbouring countries where outbreaks have occured, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In a news release issued on the occasion of the 33rd session of the European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Rome, 7-9 April 1999), FAO announced a series of initiatives launched with other international organizations for surveillance and control of FMD in the Caucasian region (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and the southern part of the Russian Federation).

A "Tripartite Group", including experts from FAO, the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) and the Commission of the European Communities, is coordinating activities in the Caucasus, in cooperation with the Institute of Veterinary Research of Vladimir (Russian Federation).

Yves Leforban, Secretary of FAO's European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease, urged efficient control measures and vaccination coverage. According to FMD experts who visited the Caucasus last month, the region is at risk of becoming endemically infected with FMD and the disease could spread further north into Russia and to western Europe.

FMD is a viral epizootic disease which affects cattle, sheep, goat and pigs. The affected animals present with vesicals in the mouth and on the feet. The disease, which spreads rapidly, causes severe economic losses and prevents exportation of live animals and meat.

An FAO/OIE/EC team recently returned from a three-week mission to Caucasus for identification of emergency measures and feasibility of programmes aimed at preventing FMD.

The cost of control and prevention of potential outbreaks is estimated at several millions of dollars. An agreement on emergency measures could be signed between FAO, OIE, EC and Vladimir Institute of Russia. This programme, which aims at improving vaccination and control measures in the Caucasus, could be launched in the coming months, and financed by the European Community (up to US$ 340 000) .

FAO experts also expressed concern about the situation in the Maghreb region. An outbreak of FMD has been developing in North Africa since last February. The disease was first reported in Algeria, probably introduced by infected animals from West Africa where FMD is endemic. Isolated outbreaks have also occurred in Tunisia and the eastern part of Morocco.

FAO has intervened rapidly through the European Commission for the control of FMD and EMPRES (FAO programme for the prevention of transboundary diseases). The UN agency is also present in the region through an FAO/IFAD network: the Regional Animal Disease Surveillance and Control Network (RADISCON). Also based in Rome, IFAD is the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

At present, the situation seems to be under control in the Maghreb region, thanks to the efforts of the concerned countries. However, preventive measures should be reinforced and epidemiological surveillance should be maintained until the return to the situation which was prevailing before the outbreaks.

Recent developments in the Maghreb region has clearly demonstrated that the FMD virus can cross the Sahara desert which, so far, was considered as a natural barrier, FAO/RADISCON Coordinator Ali Benkirane said.


For further information, please call media officer Pierre Antonios (tel. 0039.06.57053473) or FAO expert Yves Leforban (tel 0039.06.57055528) or consult FAO website:

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©FAO, 1999