Foot-and-mouth cases confirmed on Cyprus

NICOSIA – An EU expert has confirmed an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease at two farms on Cyprus, the first sign of the livestock killer in more than 40 years on the Mediterranean island, the Agriculture Ministry said yesterday. Final results were not expected from a European Union lab in Britain until later yesterday, but a Dutch veterinary expert confirmed the authorities’ worst fears, Agriculture Minister Photis Photiou told Reuters. «The EU expert who arrived visited the two farms this morning and has confirmed there is an outbreak,» Photiou said. «This is a very bad situation. We are a very small country and all farms are next to each other. It will be a big disaster for these people (farmers),» he said. Cypriot authorities pre-emptively culled 300 goats and sheep yesterday morning, but there were fears the cull could spread to thousands to ward off the highly contagious airborne disease. In Brussels, a spokesman for EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said preliminary tests were positive for the O type virus. Type O is the most prevalent of the seven types of foot and mouth. Cyprus had stopped all exports of meat, dairy and livestock, spokesman Philip Tod said. EU vets would meet today to discuss further measures, he said. The afflicted area of Larnaca is a farming-intensive district dotted with pig and cattle farms. If necessary, authorities would extend the cull, Photiou said. «We have already killed 300 animals, but we don’t know how far we have to go.» Cyprus has not experienced an outbreak of foot-and-mouth, which is devastating to livestock, since 1963. The disease is usually harmless to humans, but extremely dangerous to many animals, including cows, pigs and sheep, which develop blisters on their hooves, foam at the mouth and collapse. The virus is highly contagious and spreads easily with the wind. Local reports have suggested that anything between 100,000 and 160,000 animals were at risk. Around 15,000 animals were in the risk zone of 3 km around the two farms, and 150,000 in a broader 10-km zone, Photiou said. Agriculture, including farming, represents about 2.8 percent of Cyprus’s gross domestic product. The island is generally self-sufficient in its meat and dairy products and exports pork and cheese. Authorities were puzzled at an apparent false alarm in late October, when tests on another flock of sheep showing suspect symptoms came up positive, but EU test results were negative. Vets maintained a quarantine over the first suspect farm because of the discrepancy, and extended it after a flock at a second farm 500 meters away showed symptoms late last week. «Nobody knows how it reached Cyprus. There are a lot of scenarios, a lot of suspicion, but we cannot know,» Photiou told reporters earlier.