Since late November 2010, South Korean authorities have imposed quarantines, initiated a vaccination campaign that is targeting nine million pigs and three million heads of cattle, and culled 2.2 million livestock. The overall cost of this effort is estimated at around $1.6 billion.
"The current FMD dynamics in eastern Asia, as well as the magnitude of the outbreak in South Korea, are unlike anything that we've seen for at least a half century," said Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer. "This makes preparedness and monitoring extremely important right now."
"Authorities in Asia should make sure they are in a position to detect any instances of the disease and respond rapidly in an appropriate way. FAO is advocating proactive vaccination campaigns designed to stop the spread of the disease," he said.
"FMD must be tackled as a regional problem, which is why FAO through its Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific is planning to organize a meeting of chief veterinary officers of East Asian countries to discuss the current situation and possible coordinated responses," added Subhash Morzaria, Asia Region Manager of FAO's Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Disease Operations.
Lubroth also noted that when responding to outbreaks, countries should adhere to accepted practices that adequately take animal welfare and environmental impacts into account.
Virus circulating across East Asia
Media reports of an FMD outbreak in North Korea have not been confirmed by authorities there.
In recent years FMD has made an unparalleled spread through China and entered eastern regions of Russia and Mongolia for the first time. FMD recently affected an estimated 1.5 million Mongolian gazelles, whose migration may have helped carry the virus into China. FAO sent an emergency response team to Mongolia to help authorities cope with the disease.
The overall situation in Asia is cause for concern, said Lubroth, especially given the approaching Lunar New Year holiday, during which large numbers of people will be on the move in the region, many of them carrying meat products and some transporting animals.