Foot-and-Mouth disease: Can research offer solutions? Science feature examines prevention and detection efforts

March 22, 2001

When it strikes cows, pigs and other livestock, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) rapidly threatens financial disaster for farmers and, potentially, for entire economies. Effective vaccines have been available for decades, but practical concerns have limited their use.

A news article in the 23 March, 2001, issue of the journal, Science, examines current prevention and detection--as well as research efforts to make FMD vaccines more practical.

The European Union banned the vaccines in 1992 because vaccinated animals produce the same antibodies as infected livestock, making it impossible to determine when animals are sick. Since immediate detection is crucial to contain the spread of FMD, countries such as the United States and Japan had banned vaccinated animals, which put pressure on the European Union.

Now, some farmers and politicians argue that vaccinating should begin anew.

"One of the things that could end the current impasse," the Science news report states, "is a test that would separate vaccinated from infected animals." At least one such test is being developed by United Biomedical Inc., a U.S. firm in Hauppauge, New York. The test detects antibodies against proteins involved in viral replication, produced by the virus, but not by vaccines.

Another strategy is to develop a better vaccine, capable of fighting many strains of FMD, not just one, reports Science journalist Martin Enserink. Existing vaccines fight all seven FMD viruses. But, each vaccine targets a specific strain, and periodic booster shots are required. A number of vaccine-development efforts are underway, including projects by Fred Brown and by Marvin Grubman at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York state, in the United States.

The United States and other countries are stepping up efforts to block FMD's spread. Such measures reflect the economic consequences of FMD. A 1998 study by Javier Ekboir, then with the School of Veterinary at the University of California, Davis, estimated that the direct costs of FMD in a single California county could run between $0.5 billion and $1.5 billion. Two-year losses could run about $1.9 billion, if other countries shunned California meat, Ekboir found.
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Media Note: Reporters may request a copy of this embargoed Science news report by calling 202-326-6440, or by sending email to scipak@aaas.org

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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