FMD future: Vaccines or funeral pyres?

September 30, 2003

Millions of animals could be needlessly slaughtered and billions of dollars lost from economies, unless the world backs an international science team to develop new tools to fight the terrible livestock disease, foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

The group of world-leading researchers aims to develop a more effective FMD vaccine and better diagnostic tests that would enable livestock disease control agencies to isolate and eventually eliminate the disease.

The team of scientists from the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, and Australia, are calling for international support for their bold five-year research project.

"Foot-and-mouth disease is a global problem and it requires a global solution," says project leader, Dr. Martyn Jeggo, Director of CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL).

"Most countries probably can't afford the burden of funding the necessary research, but the world cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. That's why we are calling on United Nations agencies and other international donors for support."

"We have the scientific capabilities and commitment to successfully deliver this project. What is needed is a commitment by the international community to fund the work which we estimate will cost US$60 million. This is a paltry sum compared to the around US$12 billion cost of the 2001 FMD outbreak in the UK."

With members drawn from AAHL, the UK's Pirbright Laboratory in the Institute for Animal Health, the United States' Plum Island Animal Disease Center, and Canada's National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease, the team features some of the world's leading experts in the development of FMD vaccines and diagnostic tests.

Dr. Jeggo says currently available FMD vaccines protect animals from developing symptoms of the disease but do not prevent them from becoming infected with, and passing on, the virus. In addition they require several days to confer protection from exposure to the virus.

"Current tests cannot readily identify vaccinated animals infected with live FMD virus.

"In five years we aim to deliver an effective FMD vaccine and sophisticated diagnostic tests which will ensure vaccinated animals are not confused with infected animals," Dr. Jeggo says. "Vaccination would then become a realistic option for control of an outbreak in a developed country like the UK.

"This would mean that, instead of having to slaughter millions of animals simply because they are suspected of being infected, a vaccination program could be an alternative method of controlling the spread of the disease," he says.

Dr. David Paton of the Institute for Animal Health's Pirbright Laboratory in the UK cited the example of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Campaign as a success story that could be copied in the case of FMD.

"Total rinderpest eradication is now in sight. Whilst there are a number of factors that have been critical to this success, the availability of an effective vaccine and diagnostics, has been of crucial importance," he says.

Dr. Tom McKenna of the Plum Island Animal Disease Centre in the US says field-testing of candidate vaccines developed by the research team could then take place in collaboration with countries presently infected with FMD. This would occur in consultation with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS), including Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute, South Africa, PanAftosa, South America, and Pakchong Laboratory, Thailand.
-end-
More information:
Dr. Martyn Jeggo, AAHL, 61-3-5227-5511, martyn.jeggo@csiro.au
Dr. Kitching, Canada, 204-789-2102, kitchingp@inspection.gc.ca
Dr. Paton, UK, 44-1483-231012, david.paton@bbsrc.ac.uk
Dr. Tom McKenna, US, 631-323-3256, thomas.s.mckenna@aphis.usda.gov

Media assistance:
Emma Homes, CSIRO Livestock Industries - AAHL, 03-5227-5123 or 0409-236-152
Dr. Tracey Duncombe, UK, 44-0-1635-577241, tracey.duncombe@bbsrc.ac.uk
Ms. Heather Plett-Laurendeau, Canada, 204-789-5046
Sandy Miller Hays, US, 301-504-1636, smhays@ars.usda.gov

CSIRO Australia

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