Diagnostic tests to differentiate between animals infected with the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease and animals vaccinated against the disease might be close to a reality following a meeting of international foot-and-mouth disease scientists in Australia in March.
According to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), such tests would allow foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks around the world to be controlled using vaccines, with a reduced reliance on mass slaughter.
For the first time, FMD scientists will gather in Australia, meeting at CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) from 4-8 March 2002. They will share results from an international co-ordinated research programme, now in its third year, which is run by the Joint Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) /International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Division of the IAEA, in Vienna, Austria.
The main aim of the programme is to develop a single test that will allow disease control authorities to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals, and which could be used for samples from all species of domestic livestock that can be infected with FMD.
"The world organisation for animal health - the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) - requires that countries show that they are free from diseases such as FMD in order to trade internationally.
Current tests cannot distinguish between animals which have been infected and those which have been vaccinated, so a country using vaccination as a control strategy will be prevented from trading livestock and livestock products," said Mr Doughty, of CSIRO Livestock Industries.
Through work in 15 countries to date, the programme has examined a variety of Institutional and commercial kits to detect antibodies to FMD.
Doughty added that the ultimate aim of the project was to produce one test which would work in all species and breeds of animals around the world. This test would become an OIE prescribed test for use in establishing a country's status as free from FMD.
"We have been attempting to standardise laboratory practices and test out the kits in a wide range of species," said Doughty.
FMD is a highly contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals, such as pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and deer. The disease is spread rapidly via contact between animals, and carried by people, transport vehicles or on the wind. It has not occurred in Australia since 1872 but farmers in Great Britain are still suffering from the ravaging effects of a recent outbreak of the disease.