New foot and mouth strain spreads to Gaza Strip

ROME - A new strain of foot and mouth disease (FMD) has reached the Gaza Strip and threatens to spread further after first being detected in Egypt and Libya in February, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Wednesday.

FAO said sick animals had been detected on April 19 in Rafah, on the border with Egypt. It said vaccines against the SAT2 strain of the virus were still in short supply and the priority at the moment was to limit animal movements.

FMD is a highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, buffalo and pigs. It 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, FAO said.

Movements of animals from the Nile Delta eastward through the Sinai Peninsula and north into the Gaza strip have been deemed the highest risk for the spread of the disease into the wider Middle East region, the Rome-based agency said.

"If FMD SAT2 reaches deeper into the Middle East it could spread throughout vast areas, threatening the Gulf countries - even southern and eastern Europe, and perhaps beyond" said Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer.

The FMD virus is transmitted via the saliva of sick animals, and spreads easily via contaminated hay, stalls, trucks and clothing, FAO said.

The Gaza Strip will receive an initial 20,000 vaccines to protect cattle and 40,000 doses will soon be available for sheep and goats, the agency said. It is negotiating with vaccine producers in case the disease spreads further.