A new strain of foot and mouth disease (FMD) has hit Egypt and threatens to spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, jeopardizing food security in the region, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Thursday.
There have been 40,222 suspected cases of the disease in Egypt and 4,658 animals, mostly calves, have already died, the FAO said in a statement citing official estimates.
"Although foot-and-mouth disease has circulated in the country for some years, this is an entirely new introduction of a virus strain known as SAT2, and livestock have no immune protection against it," the Rome-based agency said.
Vaccines are urgently needed as 6.3 million buffalo and cattle and 7.5 million sheep and goats are at risk in Egypt, the FAO said.
"The area around the Lower Nile Delta appears to be severely affected, while other areas in Upper Egypt and the west appear less so," Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer, said, calling for strong action to prevent the spread of the disease.
FMD is a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, buffalo and pigs. FMD is not a direct threat to humans.
Meat and milk from sick animals are unsafe for consumption, not because FMD affects humans, but because foodstuffs entering the food chain should only come from animals that are known to be healthy, the FAO said.
Egypt has some reserves of its own vaccines, but these do not protect against the SAT2 strain. The country could need regional support in mobilizing effective ones, the FAO said.
With vaccines sometimes taking up to two weeks to confer immunity, joint efforts to boost biosecurity measures to limit the spread of the disease are urgently needed, said the FAO whose emergency team visited Egypt last week.
Such measures include limiting animal movements and avoiding contact with animals from other farms; avoiding purchasing animals in the immediate term since they could have come from contaminated sources, preferably by burning carcasses.