ROME – A new case of a novel strain of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) detected in the Gaza Strip underscores the importance to maintain and intensify international efforts to stop the virus from spreading in the Middle East and North Africa, said the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

After outbreaks of the SAT2 strain of the virus occurred in Egypt and Libya in February, fears it might spread into neighboring areas were confirmed on April 19 when infected animals were discovered in Rafah, a town in the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt.

Since the SAT2 variant is new to the region, animals do not have any acquired resistance to it.

Since vaccines against the SAT2 virus are in short supply, the priority is to limit animal movement to prevent further spread. Increased surveillance of animal populations to quickly detect and respond to new outbreaks is also important.

Animal travel from the Nile Delta eastward through the Sinai Peninsula and north into the Gaza Strip have been determined to be the highest risk for the spread of the SAT2 FMD virus strain into the wider Middle East region, where livestock is a major component of household food security.

The FMD virus, which is transmitted via the saliva of sick animals, can live outside a host for a long time. It spreads easily through contaminated hay, stalls, trucks, shoes and clothing – and on the hands of traders inspecting animals at market.

Bahrain recently reported another SAT2 virus strain, but at a quarantine center. FAO relays this emphasizes the importance of thorough inspection and prevention systems when dealing with imported plants, animals or other biological material.

Israel quickly implemented targeted vaccination along its southern borders to create a buffer zone of protection for animal herds most at risk following official reports of the FMD SAT2 outbreaks in Egypt. Gaza Strip will initially get a lot of 20,000 vaccine doses to protect its cattle. Forty thousand more doses will soon be available for sheep and goats.

FAO and the FAO-based European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (EuFMD) are now negotiating with producers and vaccine banks to find vaccine sources should there be further spread of FMD and a worsening of the situation.

Om May 2, a FAO/OIE Crisis Management Centre for Animal Health (CMC-AH) team arrived in Libya to take more samples from affected animals so the virus can be better characterized and the most suitable vaccine found or produced; this action should help ensure the maximum efficacy of eventual vaccination campaigns. The team will also give support to Libyan veterinary services in strengthening their efforts to control FMD outbreaks.

FAO has been involved in more responses including:

• Developing a regional response plan in consultation with countries at risk of eastward spread of SAT2 from Egypt and westward spread from Libya.
• Facilitating meetings among veterinary officials from the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe to promote coordinated action and effective implementation of the response plan.
• Working through the FAO/OIE Crisis Management Centre for Animal Health (CMC-AH) and the EuFMD Commission to provide technical support to Egypt in managing its SAT2 epidemic.
• Training regional veterinarians to take virus samples and learn diagnostic methods to identify the SAT2 strain of FMD. A supply of ELISA diagnostic kits were supplied to veterinarians working in high-risk areas of Egypt and countries to its east, including Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, including the West Bank.