Foot and mouth disease (FMD) affects cattle, sheep and pigs, as well as all other cloven-hooved animals. Its potential for fast spread and transmission via fomites (inanimate objects such as vehicles) make it a particularly challenging disease. Following decades of FMD-freedom, UK farming was devastated by an outbreak of FMD in 2001.
EPIC, in collaboration with Scotland’s livestock industry, has developed a number of models for how FMD might spread should the disease enter Scotland. These disease models have been integrated with other models developed by EPIC's economists to understand the financial impacts of disease spread and subsequent control strategies.
A vaccine is available for FMD but can only be used once the virus serotype in an outbreak is known. This means it cannot be used to protect animals outwith an outbreak. EPIC scientists have used models to assess whether vaccination would be economically viable. Given the overall costs related to the implementation of vaccination in the field, vaccination would not always be economically beneficial, even when it appears to be beneficial in reducing disease spread. In particular, small, short-lived epidemics may be most penalised economically from the additional trade restrictions induced by implementing vaccination.
EPIC scientists worked with Scottish Government policy-makers and APHA to complete a library of risk assessment documents for use during an FMD outbreak. These risk assessments cover (i) animal movements and various related activities, and (ii) recreational access to the countryside, for example for hiking, horse-riding or canoeing.
EPIC scientists undertook a survey of 200 Scottish farmers to identify if neighbouring farms have similar levels of biosecurity risk. Our findings show local patterns in biosecurity risk are independent of each other. This information helps to inform FMD modelling and the conclusions may also have relevance when considering control of other diseases that are particularly influenced by individual and local biosecurity, for example when targeting control of BVD.
Scotland's landscape could impact how FMD spreads. Using fine scale maps of livestock holdings, research shows how interconnected holdings are within the landscape. Farms in the south of Scotland are particularly interconnected with a greater numbers of contiguous fields and fewer natural (eg. rivers) or man made barriers (e.g. railways) than other parts of Scotland.
These findings may inform control or surveillance strategies in the event of an FMD outbreak.
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