With recent foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreaks reported in Taiwan and China, many livestock producers are growing increasingly nervous about the possibility of the disease occurring in the United States. FMD is one of the world's most contagious animal viruses and an outbreak in the United States could cost more than $50 billion, experts estimate.
Soon, however, a vaccine will be available that could ease those fears. The new vaccine is expected to be licensed for use in the next few months.
The vaccine has been developed under top security by scientists at Plum Island Animal Disease Center. "This is probably one of the most important innovations in the last 60 years in foot-and-mouth disease," says Luis Rodriguez, research leader of the Plum Island foreign animal disease research unit.
Currently-used FMD vaccines are not practical because of the inability to distinguish vaccinated animals from infected animals. The new vaccine technology will include an antibody test that will enable regulators to tell the difference, the researchers say.
The new vaccine will also offer significant safety advantages since it does not use the whole live virus and cannot replicate, according to Larry Barrett, director of Plum Island, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security installation.
A part of the foot-and-mouth virus is placed in a vector and the vaccine works by triggering an immune response. When the vaccine is injected into the animal, it provides the relevant genetic information the animal’s immune system needs to fight the disease virus. FMD affects animals with hooves, including swine, cattle, sheep, goats and deer. The United States has not had an FMD outbreak since 1929.
"The animal actually makes the vaccine inside its body by producing the FMD protein necessary to create an immune response," Rodriguez says. “I think it's going to revolutionize the way we look at FMD vaccines around the world today."