An Australian foot-and-mouth expert from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO warned this week that the highly adaptable pan-Asian strain of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), responsible for the UK outbreaks, is on the move in South-East Asia.
Dr Gleeson has returned to CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) after spending four years in Thailand working for the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) - the world organisation for animal health.
"FMD appeared this year in the highlands of northern Laos, which is highly unusual. The pan-Asian strain seems to be very well adapted to pigs and cattle, and it has a capability to get around. This particular strain is now in every country of South East Asia that has FMD," says Dr Gleeson.
"The outbreak of FMD in the UK and the spread of a new strain of FMD throughout South East Asia in recent times has put us on high alert."
The news comes as the Australian Animal Health Laboratory gears up its preparedness to deal with a potential outbreak of the livestock disease.
Dr Gleeson says AAHL is in the process of obtaining extra FMD test reagents, automating equipment, and training extra staff at the laboratory and at State diagnostic laboratories.
"We realise that if the worst happens and there is an outbreak of FMD in Australia, we must be prepared to deal with a high volume of samples. We will need to be able to test samples from the outbreak area, and also from areas free from the disease, so they can resume trading as quickly as possible," says Dr Gleeson.
"Our capability to quickly and accurately diagnose the first case of FMD has been high, but we recognised in the wake of the UK outbreak that we could do more to prepare for a long running outbreak of the disease," he says.