In a world where COVID-19 has dominated the news media and redirected the attention of many scientific endeavours, it is worth remembering that there are still many other diseases which are continuously monitored to control and prevent devastating outbreaks.
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is one such disease that is caused by a highly contagious virus, which infects cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and various wildlife species. Estimates for the number of animals infected with foot-and-mouth disease each year range between 55 - 160 million. The disease poses a barrier to trade and many countries that experience persistent outbreaks are also heavily reliant on livestock animals for their income, resulting in disastrous wellbeing and economic impacts.
Dr Don King heads the Vesicular Disease Reference Laboratory and oversees the Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations (FAO) World Reference Laboratory for Foot-and-Mouth Disease (WRLFMD) at The Pirbright Institute. WRLFMD scientists coordinate an international network of 15 reference centres that collect and sequence samples from all over the world within Pirbright’s high containment laboratories. Results from this work help researchers to understand the way that different types of FMD are spread across borders, providing essential information to recognise new risks and to ensure that the correct vaccines are administered.
These surveillance activities also provide diagnostic support and training to countries where the disease is constantly present, preventing further spread and halting existing outbreaks by providing scientists and farmers with tools to tackle FMD.
“Through developing innovative detection methods, such as creating portable field tests and investigating the use of pooled milk for sampling, we can produce rapid and accurate diagnostics that benefit countries where the disease is prevalent and FMD free countries like the UK, should the virus ever reach our shores” said Dr King.
Pirbright’s status as WRLFMD was recently renewed in June 2020 for another four years by the FAO, acknowledging decades of hard work and experience that have been central to combatting this widespread and destructive disease.