Vaccine causes FMD outbreak in Paraguay

Nov 4, 2011

Paraguay’s recent foot and mouth (FMD) outbreak was the result of a faulty vaccine intended to protect the livestock from the disease, according to government reports. The vaccine was responsible for transmitting the disease to hundreds of animals.

Paraguayan and international scientists concluded that “human error” and “negligence” in the production of the vaccine caused the outbreak last September, a top veterinary official said.

Authorities said more than a thousand cattle were killed during the outbreak. Officials said they have not yet determined who would be held accountable for the costly mistake.

“After the most recent laboratory analysis, we have confirmed that the outbreak of foot and mouth disease ... came about as a result of problems with the vaccination of animals,” said Daniel Rojas, head of Paraguay’s National Service for Animal Health and Quality.

“There now is no doubt that it was human error that led to the outbreak of foot and mouth,” he said.

The affected animals were at the Santa Helena ranch, 250 miles northeast of Asuncion, in the department of San Pedro.

“We still have to identify at what stage in the process the problem occurred, determine who was responsible for the mistake, and punish them,” Rojas said, adding that the outbreak has “led to significant economic losses for the country.”

In September, Paraguay halted their beef exports until December when the outbreak first occurred.

The fast-growing beef industry in the South American country is considered to be a top 10 global exporter that was expected to post record exports this year with the help of big markets such as Russia and Chile.

“The suspension is for prudence, with the aim of guaranteeing the quality of the meat shipped abroad, until we determine if the outbreak is isolated or is in other areas too,” Carlos Simon, interim director of the national veterinary service Senacsa, told online paper Ultima Hora.

“During the rest of the year, we’re going to lose out on three months—exports will be zero,” Luis Pettengil, head of the Paraguayan Beef Chamber, told reporters. “We’re looking at [a loss of] about $300 million or $400 million.”

The outbreak was Paraguay’s first in almost 10 years.

Neighboring countries were quick to ban imports of Paraguayan meat, livestock, and meat by products after the outbreak to prevent spreading of the disease.

Beef is the number two export, after soy, for Paraguay, totaling $650 million last year. Officials estimate that the ban costs the economy about $70 million each month. There are about 12 million head of cattle in the country.

Paraguay had doubled beef exports in the past six years. In 2010, the country shipped 170,000 tons.

“This is very serious for Paraguay because we’ll get shut out of some markets and potential losses could be $900 million a year,” said Olga Ferreiro, an analyst with Investor Economia in Asuncion.

“All the other exporting countries like Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina are going to try to cover our share of the market, and winning that back could take several years,” she added.

The last foot and mouth outbreak in Paraguay occurred in 2002, and the country was declared free of the disease with vaccination in 2005.

In neighboring Argentina, another important global beef exporter also classified as free of the disease with vaccination, animal health officials said they were intensifying controls at border posts with Paraguay.

“The measure ... aims to protect the health of the national herd,” the staterun Senasa agency said in a statement on its website.

FMD vaccines are used to produce or stimulate immunity against a particular disease and are made of killed virus preparations that are, according to USDA reports, pure, safe and effective. Available in the U.S., the vaccine is offered through the North American Foot-and-Mouth Vaccine Bank.

There are seven different types and more than 60 subtypes of FMD virus, with no universal vaccine against the disease, according to USDA.

Vaccines for FMD must match to the type and subtype present in the affected area. When matched to type and subtype, the vaccine will normally protect animals from developing clinical signs of disease, but will not necessarily protect animals against FMD infection, according to USDA.

If an FMD vaccination program were implemented in the U.S., it would compromise our trade status, according to USDA reports.

Countries that vaccinate for FMD cannot claim FMDfree status.

The World Organization for Animal Health’s current restrictions require countries to undergo a three-month waiting period between the time they have slaughtered their last vaccinated animal to the time they can claim FMDfree status, assuming there is ongoing testing which has demonstrated that the disease has been eradicated.

The U.S. has been free of FMD since 1929 when the last of nine U.S. outbreaks was eradicated. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor