Unveiling Recurrent Foot-and-Mouth Disease in the Middle East

Unveiling Recurrent Foot-and-Mouth Disease in the Middle East
17th January 2024 Moriah Aharon

Despite the routine vaccination efforts, Israel has been grappling with recurrent outbreaks of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD). A comprehensive study conducted by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem highlights repeated incursions of FMD virus in Israel and neighbouring areas, suggesting a pattern of transmission. It emphasises the importance of a collaborative, targeted approach involving improved surveillance, vaccination efforts, and cross-border cooperation to control and prevent the spread of FMD. The research underscores the necessity for unified strategies among policymakers, veterinarians, and farmers across the region to effectively combat FMD and reduce its economic and agricultural consequences.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral infection affecting hooved animals, caused by the FMD virus (FMDV) with seven known serotypes. The virus’s high mutation rate leads to diverse genetic lineages and topotypes. FMD incursions in disease-free regions have significant socio-economic impacts. Vaccination is applied both in endemic countries and some disease-free regions as a preventive measure.

A study led by Prof Eyal Klement from the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Dr Sharon Karniely from the Kimron Veterinary Institute, aligned Israeli FMD strains with those from neighbouring countries in corresponding years. The findings indicate a pattern of repeated FMD virus incursions, emphasising the need for a more targeted and collaborative approach to disease management.

A genomic analysis of the FMD epidemic in Israel in 2007, caused by a serotype O virus, revealed predominant transmission among extensively farmed beef-cattle and small ruminants. Small ruminants were identified as key contributors in transmitting the virus to beef-cattle, which subsequently spread it to feedlot-cattle, while wild gazelles played a minor role.

The results indicate a potential transmission route from the Palestinian Authority to Israel, underscoring the importance of cross-border cooperation in disease control efforts. “We believe that a targeted approach focusing on extensive farms, coupled with improved surveillance and vaccination efforts, could significantly enhance our control over Foot-and-Mouth Disease,” said Prof Eyal Klement.

Given the evident cross-border transmission, the researchers emphasise the urgency of a collaborative FMD mitigation strategy across the Middle East. This cooperative effort, spearheaded by the Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is crucial to curbing the recurring outbreaks and safeguarding the agricultural communities in the region. Navigating the challenge of controlling FMD across borders is further complicated by ongoing hostilities and geopolitical tensions adding layers of complexity to collaborative efforts amidst these conflicts.

The research findings have important implications for policymakers, veterinarians, and farmers in Israel and neighbouring nations, as they underscore the need for a unified approach to combat FMD and mitigate its economic and agricultural impact.

The research paper titled “Foot and mouth disease viruses are recurrently introduced to Israel and spread by extensively reared sheep and cattle: Insights from a whole-genome sequence analysis” is now available in Science Direct and can be accessed here.

Greta Ivanov1, Eyal Klement1, Boris Gelman2, Ehud Elnekave1, Sharon Karniely2

1) Koret School of Veterinary Medicine, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
2) Department of Virology, Kimron Veterinary Institute

Disclaimer: In these challenging times of war and crisis, Hebrew University of Jerusalem is resolute in its dedication to advancing research and education. We stand in full support of the brave individuals on the frontlines, safeguarding our nation and the well-being of all Israelis, and extend our deepest gratitude and unwavering solidarity to our community and fellow citizens. Together, we shall prevail against the challenges that confront us, and our shared commitment to the well-being of all Israelis and the pursuit of knowledge remains resolute.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is Israel’s premier academic and research institution. With over 25,000 students from 90 countries, it is a hub for advancing scientific knowledge and holds a significant role in Israel’s civilian scientific research output, accounting for nearly 40% of it and has registered over 11,000 patents. The university’s faculty and alumni have earned eight Nobel Prizes and a Fields Medal, underscoring their contributions to ground-breaking discoveries. In the global arena, the Hebrew University ranks 86th according to the Shanghai Ranking. To learn more about the university’s academic programs, research initiatives, and achievements, visit the official website at http://new.huji.ac.il/en