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Press Release 01/15


Rome, 14 March 2001 - "The rapid spread of a pandemic strain of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) clearly demonstrates the ability of the FMD virus to infiltrate a wide geographic area and to cause epidemics in countries which have been free from the disease for many years," the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement issued today.

In some parts of the world, the FMD situation has improved substantially over the last two or three decades, FAO said. North and Central America, large parts of southern Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific nations are free of the disease as were up to recently also large parts of southern Africa and Europe.

"However, FMD remains endemic in many countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America. Emergency preparedness, contingency plans and awareness campaigns are of critical importance for the control of FMD. No country can consider itself safe from the risk of the disease, due to increased international trade, tourism, the movement of animals, animal products and foodstuff."

The FAO European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (EUFMD) will discuss the current outbreak and advise countries at its next meeting, to be held in Rome (21-23 March 2001). The Commission was established in 1954 and has 33 member countries. It coordinates the national FMD programmes at the continental level.

The FMD virus is one of the most virulent viruses, FAO said. It is a highly contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals and characterised by the formation of vesicles (fluid-filled blisters) and erosions in the mouth, nose, teats and feet. Although usually not lethal in adult animals, it can kill young animals (piglets, lambs, kid and calves) and causes serious production losses as well as animal suffering. Countries affected by FMD are prevented from exporting animals and animal products. FMD can very rarely affect humans with mild illness.

There are seven separate virus types that cause FMD. The virus recently discovered in the UK is called serotype O of the pan-Asian strain. It was first identified in northern India in 1990 and spread westwards into Saudi Arabia in 1994 and, subsequently, throughout the Near East and into Europe. In 1993 it was found in Nepal and later in Bangladesh and Bhutan. In late 1999 and 2000 it reached most of Southeast Asia.

The potential for the spread of epidemic diseases over vast distances was demonstrated last September when Pan-Asian type O entered South Africa. It was the first time that this strain of the virus was detected on the African continent.

A particular risk for introduction of the virus is associated with feeding pigs with swill (waste food), FAO said. It is suspected that this is the likely origin of the introduction of the virus in South Africa and also in the UK.

Considering the global threat of FMD FAO recommends to the countries most exposed to the risk of introduction to:

  • reinforce surveillance measures by awareness campaigns for veterinarians and for the agricultural and transport industries
  • reinforce the control measures at the borders and particularly the possible introduction of FMD through vehicles, especially trucks returning from infected areas, and through tourists. Leaflets to inform travellers and transport companies are available in most European languages from the EUFMD.
  • develop contingency plans, including measures for destruction of carcasses and provision for emergency vaccination as a last resort.

FAO called for "stricter controls on imports of all foodstuffs including those carried by travellers and wastes from aircrafts and ships."

To eradicate the disease, a "stamping out" policy is the method of choice, according to FAO. Ring vaccination can be used to assist in the process where the number of outbreaks and of animals affected are so considerable that the "stamping out" approach poses operational and public acceptance problems. Eradication of the disease should remain the target. Vaccination is not a substitute for eradication, FAO said. "Although protected against FMD, vaccinated animals are not totally resistant and can still become infected and shed the virus. To maintain immunity, animals must be revaccinated regularly," FAO said.

"To combat and ultimately eradicate FMD, more aid should be made available for developing countries to tackle the disease in the endemic areas," FAO said.

FAO has developed a new multimedia program to help countries set up effective procedures for coping with animal disease emergencies. The programme called 'Good Emergency Management Practices (GEMP)' aims at helping countries to develop emergency preparedness contingency plans based on early warning, early reaction and control measures for each animal disease. For more information see:

The GEMP program, which is part of FAO's Emergency Prevention System (EMPRES) for transboundary animal and plant pests and diseases, offers standard control measures to be implemented during an emergency, from the first suspicion of the disease to its eradication.

It provides information on laboratory techniques for disease detection and includes an extensive photo library illustrating disease symptoms to aid in diagnosis. It also contains training materials, video clips and links to laboratories worldwide as well as organizations involved in emergency management.


For more information please contact Erwin Northoff, Media Officer, tel: 0039-06-5705 3105, e-mail: or visit the following Internet address:

Interview with the Director of the FAO/OIE World Reference Laboratory for Foot-and-Mouth disease

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