FAO in Mongolia

Find the sick with a lick: Novel Technique for FMD Testing


FAO Mongolia has started piloting the use of salt blocks to facilitate testing for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), a highly contagious viral disease that affects both livestock as well as markets since outbreaks can cause severe economic losses.

The spread of FMD in Eastern Mongolia is poorly understood and outbreaks occurred regularly in the past. While some consider the virus endemic, others believe in the transboundary incursion from neighbouring Chinese and Russian territories or the involvement of wildlife in transmission. The controlled movement of people, vehicles and livestock as well as vaccination before and during outbreaks along with a compensation policy for herders in case of loss seem to be the most effective means of controlling FMD. A cornerstone of FMD control however remains testing for the presence of the virus and protecting antibodies, which indicate a past exposure to the virus.

To that end, the current pilot has been implemented to facilitate testing and early diagnosis of the virus circulating in ruminants; the salt blocks could potentially also be used for other diseases and in other settings with camelids or wildlife. The method is rather straightforward: Salt blocks and salty mineral deposits in general draw animals from miles away for a taste of needed nutrients especially during harsh times where they are weakened and more susceptible to disease. Acutely FMD infected animals transfer the virus through their saliva to the salt block, where most likely the FMD virus is rapidly inactivated given its extreme sensitivity to the high pH in salt blocks. In case of outbreak suspicion, when an indication on the disease situation in remote herds can help veterinary authorities to target the response, veterinarians can simply scrape a tiny piece from the salt block and send the sample for laboratory testing. This procedure provides a simpler testing compared to finding infected animals, that may not be visibly sick anymore upon arrival of the veterinarian. Further,  even if the animals are visibly sick, it still remains challenging to spot and catch them as well as collect samples under Mongolian conditions with large free ranging herds and often harsh weather.

FAO carries out this pilot in ten selected herder households in collaboration with the German Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Federal Research Institute for Animal Health and the Mongolian General Authority for Veterinarian Services including local veterinarians from Dornod Aimag and Matad Soum. Samples will be taken at a biweekly basis over the coming months to test how this method works under field conditions. The activity is part of FAO’s emergency assistance for the control of FMD disease in central and western regions of Mongolia. Learn more about this project here.