A cow in a field is pictured. Credit: University of Warwick

FMD crises may be averted with vaccination strategy

Future foot and mouth disease outbreaks can be controlled effectively and quickly with vaccinations, according to university research.

Future outbreaks of foot and mouth disease (FMD) can be controlled effectively and quickly with vaccinations — saving hundreds of thousands of livestock — according to research by the University of Warwick in the U.K.

Dr. Michael Tildesley and Naomi Bradbury from Warwick's School of Life Sciences have discovered that a key issue for successfully containing and eradicating a FMD outbreak is to establish how many animals can be vaccinated per day and then tailor controls accordingly.

Using a mathematical model of the U.K. farming landscape, Tildesley and colleagues simulated numerous scenarios of infection — to varying levels of severity and speed — in order to calculate the most effective and efficient approaches to staving off the spread of disease.

Many dangerous uncertainties exist when dealing with epidemics like FMD, such as: the efficacy of vaccinations, the time it takes for livestock to become immune after receiving vaccines and the number of vaccine doses available. Uncertainty leads to huge potential losses of both livestock and money.

The Warwick FMD model demonstrates that the major uncertainty to be resolved is how many vaccine doses are available. If this is known, the infection can be contained efficiently — even when facing all other unknown factors, the researchers said.

The 2001 FMD outbreak cost the U.K. economy an estimated £8 billion and led to the culling of approximately 7 million livestock.

Using the Warwick FMD model and confirming what vaccination capacity exists, the U.K. could save up to £50 million, and around 200,000 animals could be spared from culling in any future epidemic, the researchers reported.

Furthermore, any outbreak using such tailored vaccination generally can be eradicated almost a week sooner than previous outbreaks.

Tildesley said, "There is always uncertainty in the likely effectiveness of any control strategy for an infectious disease outbreak. However, in the case of FMD, if we can accurately determine the daily capacity to vaccinate animals, we can potentially save millions of pounds (Sterling) for the farming industry."

The research paper, "Quantifying the Value of Perfect Information in Emergency Vaccination Campaigns," was published in PLOS Computational Biology.

The research was carried out in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University, Vanderbilt University and the U.S. Geological Survey and was funded by the U.K.'s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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