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Novel sampling method can detect foot-and-mouth disease in absence of clinical infection

New simple techniques created by scientists at The Pirbright Institute can detect the presence of foot-and-mouth disease virus from samples in the farm environment, even when susceptible animals are not showing clinical signs.

The new methods, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, use a simple swabbing technique to gather samples from the environments that foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) susceptible animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs commonly make contact with, such as water troughs. The technique requires very little expertise, which makes the sampling method accessible, allowing a higher frequency of samples to be collected and processed during an outbreak.

FMD virus can survive long periods of time in the environment in the right conditions (up to three months depending on environmental factors such as pH, temperature and relative humidity), and so sampling areas where infected animals may have shed virus allows scientists to detect the presence of FMD even if the animals on the farm are no longer showing clinical signs.

This method will allow FMD surveillance to go beyond the investigation of clinical signs, meaning that cases which may have been missed can be detected using environ- mental sampling methods.

Novel surveillance techniques can support a robust response to outbreaks in FMD free countries, but can also be implemented in endemic countries as part of surveillance programs to supplement current information about the spread of FMD.