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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 1:20 EDT

Researchers Find A Way To Target Foot-And-Mouth Disease

August 27, 2008

Scientists in the UK have found a way to quickly identify livestock at risk from infection through airborne transmission of the foot-and-mouth virus.

Combining weather and livestock information collected during the 1967 UK foot-and-mouth outbreak has created a simple risk mode, researchers said.

The scientists suggest it may be possible to automate the system.

The control of foot-and-mouth outbreaks is of global socio-economic importance. Foot-and-mouth is a highly contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals that causes severe disruption to the farming sector and economy.

Transmission of the virus between different premises can mostly be controlled by implementing stringent control measures, Dr. Schley from the Pirbright Laboratory at the Institute for Animal Health in Surrey explained.

“You can stop animal movements, try to enforce bio-security on farms and try and make sure people disinfect themselves,” he said.

However, Schley said airborne transmissions, influenced by the wind and atmospheric turbulence, are particularly difficult to control: “All we can do is try to detect and contain such transmissions afterwards.”

Schley and colleagues used NAME in their study – a system that has been developed by the UK Meteorological Office to predict the weather.

Details about the source of the virus – including the number of animals infected were incorporated into the system.

The recent 2007 UK outbreak in Surrey served as the first test of the model.

Researchers acknowledged that successful implementation of these predictions require accurate information regarding the location of animals before any outbreak occurs.

Dr. Iain Anderson included recommendations for improved “data and information management systems” for the independent review of the 2007 UK foot-and-mouth outbreak.

“Currently, we know where the owner of the animals lives, but that is slightly different from knowing where the animal is. If that information was available you could make some useful and powerful predictions in terms of risk,” said Schley.

“The level of information that I would like the UK to aspire to has already been achieved by other countries – including New Zealand,” Schley added.

He said a well-coordinated and reliable data system could be automated: “The next day we would be able to say, these are the farms that we feel are the priority for inspection.”

Scientists at the Institute for Animal Health have developed other models for predicting the transmission of other viral diseases that affect livestock.

Schley said midges spread “bluetongue” – but they can be affected by which way the wind blows because they are so tiny and light.

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On The Net:

Foot and Mouth review, 2007

Institute for Animal Health, Surrey