Virus insight may help avoid farm culls

New insight into foot-and-mouth disease could help develop alternatives to mass culling, following University research.

Scientists have pinpointed a time window during which cattle infected with the virus can be identified before they become infectious to other cattle, or show signs of illness.

Window of opportunity

The research, carried out by scientists at the University and the Institute for Animal Health, shows that diagnosis of foot-and-mouth disease infection is possible during a window of approximately 24 hours before the animal becomes infectious.

The time frame during which cattle are infectious before they show clinical signs of disease is much shorter than previously thought.

We now know that there is a window where, if affected cattle are detected and removed promptly, there may be no need for pre-emptive culling in the immediate area.

Professor Mark WoolhouseCentre for Infectious Diseases

Field testing

Scientists say that if diagnostic tools can be developed to test animals in the field, it may be possible to separate infected animals from those that are healthy, to curb spread of the disease.

The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and published in the journal Science.

Scientists say similar studies could be performed for other acute viral diseases such as flu.

This would help refine our understanding of how diseases spread and choose the most appropriate measures to control an outbreak.

It is it very important that the disease is picked up quickly and that farmers and others who care for livestock continue to play a critical role. We now have an opportunity to develop new test systems which can detect infected animals earlier and reduce the spread of the disease.

Professor Mark WoolhouseCentre for Infectious Diseases