A vaccine for the potential bioweapon foot-and-mouth disease was recently developed in the United States and is expected to be licensed for use in the next few months.
Experts consider FMD one of the most contagious animal viruses, and though it does not directly infect humans, an outbreak or release in the United States could cost the economy nearly $50 billion, according to the BBC.
U.S. scientists at Plum Island Animal Disease Center have been working for years to develop a vaccine against the disease.
“This is probably one of the most important innovations in the last 60 years in foot-and-mouth disease,” Dr Luis Rodriguez, the research leader of the foreign animal disease research unit at Plum Island, said, the BBC reports. “FMD is one of the largest burdens on animal health and production around the world. We pay attention to it when it gets into non-endemic countries like the U.K. – and if it ever came into the U.S. it would be big news.”
FMD can cause major disruptions because it is extremely contagious and spreads quickly, infecting most cloven-hoofed animals. Infected livestock have to be quarantined immediately and are usually killed to stop the virus from spreading further. Meat, dairy and most other trade involving animal products come to a standstill when an infection is discovered.
Vaccines for FMD exist, but their use is limited because veterinarians cannot differentiate between vaccinated and infected animals, both test positive for the illness. Nations jittery about importing disease-free animals can rarely be persuaded to take animals that test positive, regardless of whether they are reported to have been vaccinated.
The researchers at Plum Island said that the new vaccine will come with an antibody test that will enable regulators to tell the difference between animals with the illness and animals that have been vaccinated.
The vaccine does not use the entire whole virus to trigger an immune response and cannot replicate.
“The animal actually makes the vaccine inside its body by producing the FMD protein necessary to create an immune response,” Dr. Rodriguez said, according to the BBC. “It’s a very good innovation – the most effective way to date and very promising technology. I think it’s going to revolutionize the way we look at FMD vaccines around the world today.”