A vaccination programme based on the proactive identification of circulating strains of foot-and-mouth disease in livestock could help alleviate poverty in eastern Africa, suggests a paper published online this week in Nature Ecology and Evolution.
Foot-and-mouth disease in Africa is estimated to account for livestock production losses of around US$2.3 billion each year. Although mass vaccination strategies against foot-and-mouth have been implemented across southern Africa, control of the disease has been minimal in the east of the continent, where little is known about its local epidemiology.
Tiziana Lembo, Richard Reeve and colleagues surveyed farming households in Tanzania. They find that foot-and-mouth disease is a major concern among local people and that it has a high economic burden - households battling the costs of outbreaks in their livestock typically spend around 25% less on human health.
Testing livestock for past exposure to different strains of the foot-and-mouth virus, the authors find that the disease passes through eastern Africa in slow waves of specific virus strains. They also find that, unlike in southern Africa, it is rare for livestock to become infected with foot-and-mouth disease from wild buffalo, which suggests that wildlife-livestock separation strategies are unlikely to be effective.
The researchers conclude that the early surveillance of currently circulating strains coupled with proactive strain-specific vaccination could cost-effectively mitigate the economic and health impacts of foot-and-mouth disease in eastern Africa.