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Press Release 00/54  


Rome, 22 September - The movement of people, animals and animal products for trade is leading to an increased spread of animal diseases across national borders, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned in a statement today. Recently, some livestock diseases have been diagnosed for the first time outside of their 'normal' areas of origin, sometimes thousands of kilometres away, according to FAO.

More than 50 people are reported to have died in Yemen over the last days from a suspected outbreak of Rift Valley Fever. From the Al-Hudaydah province at the Western coast of Yemen high abortion rates in livestock and numerous deaths of young calves and sheep are reported. The affected area is bordering Saudi Arabia's Jizan province. Sixteen people have died of the disease in Jizan last week. This was the first known outbreak of Rift Valley Fever outside Africa, the Organization reported.

The disease was first recognised in the Rift Valley of Kenya in 1930. It is usually an influenza-like illness in humans.

The virus affects people as well as animals. The disease is usually transmitted by mosquitoes, but humans can also be affected by contact with blood or body fluids from infected animals.

"It is possible that the virus was brought from Africa through the movement of infected people or the transport of infected animals," said FAO Senior Animal Health expert Mark Rweyemamu. FAO is participating in an emergency mission in Saudi Arabia to help the local authorities to tackle the outbreak. A mission is being organized to Yemen as well.

In South Africa, Foot and Mouth disease broke out a few days ago on a pig farm near Pietermaritzburg, in the KwaZulu-Natal province. This was the first Foot and Mouth disease infection in KwaZulu-Natal since 1956, FAO said. It is suspected that the virus was carried in pig feed obtained illegally from a foreign ship. This particular virus, Type 0, has never before been seen in South Africa. The outbreak has killed 70 pigs, and about about 600 pigs have been slaughtered to avoid a major outbreak.

Veterinary authorities have so far succeeded in preventing a further spread of the disease, but it is feared that exports of agricultural products from the region affected could be at risk, with severe economic losses.

Earlier this year, outbreaks of Bluetongue disease occurred in Bulgaria and Sardinia/Italy. Bluetongue is a deadly viral disease of sheep which causes fever and the swelling of the tongue and face. It has never been reported there before.

In the United Kingdom an outbreak of Classical Swine fever was recently confirmed. Swine Fever kills more than 90 percent of the pigs infected. The disease had been eradicated in the UK many years ago. The infection is thought to have been introduced through meat products from outside the country.

"All these cases illustrate that transboundary animal diseases continue to be a real threat. No country can claim to be safe from these diseases. In an increasingly globalized world veterinary surveillance systems and services are vital to detect these diseases early enough and to prepare contingency plans to contain those outbreaks. Veterinary services should not be considered as a luxury - they must be supported to avoid future disasters", Rweyemamu said.

Prevention, effective containment and the control of the most serious epidemic diseases of livestock is the prime thrust of FAO's Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal Diseases (EMPRES).


More information on EMPRES is available at: or contact Erwin Northoff, Media Officer, tel: 39 065705 3105; e-mail:

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