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UPDATE ON WORLD ANIMAL HEALTH STATUS
66th Annual General Session of the International Committee of the Office International des Epizooties

OIE, the world organisation for animal health, was created in 1924 and has its headquarters in Paris. The Delegates of its 151 Member Countries form the ‘International Committee’, which is supported by the work of four Specialist Commissions and five Regional Commissions. The OIE’s purpose is to inform and advise the Veterinary Services of its Member Countries, in order to contribute to the eradication of animal diseases that are the most dangerous to animals and humans, and to determine the health standards for international trade.

The International Committee of the Office International des Epizooties held its 66th annual General Session in Paris from 25 to 29 May 1998, at which it gave a global overview of world animal health(1)(2). The Chief Veterinary Officers of 123 OIE Member Countries, as well as 5 non-Member Countries or territories were present, together with the representatives of 11 intergovernmental organisations, including the FAO(3), WTO(4) and WHO(5).

The following guests of honour were present at the opening of the 66th General Session: Her Royal Highness the Princess Dina Abdul Hameed of Jordan; Mr Roque Benjamin Fernández, Minister of the Economy, Works and Public Services of Argentina; Mr Francisco Turra, Minister of Agriculture of Brazil; Mr Alassane Séré, Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources of Burkina Faso; Mr Lockwood Smith, Minister of Agriculture of New Zealand; Mr Jozias J. van Aarsen, Minister of Agriculture, the Environment and Fisheries of the Netherlands; and Mr Louis Le Pensec, French Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Of the various animal diseases, the so-called ‘List A’ diseases are the most damaging to the world economy and international trade, including the following:

Rinderpest is a viral disease with a very high mortality rate among affected herds. In January 1997 it spread into the regions of Arusha and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania from an outbreak in the district of Kajiado in Kenya in December 1996. By contrast, several west African countries declared themselves ‘provisionally free’ from the disease in 1997. In the rest of the world, only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Yemen reported the presence of the disease.

Foot and mouth disease is another viral disease which, though less severe, is much more contagious and damaging to farmed cattle and pigs. It is either absent or under control in Oceania, certain Far Eastern countries, the countries of North and Central America and those of the southern cone of Latin America, as well as in most European countries. There is a special foot and mouth disease control programme in South-East Asia, coordinated by the OIE through a unit established in Bangkok (Thailand). Contamination of a region by this disease can result in substantial financial losses because of the need to slaughter affected animals and impose an export ban. This was the case in Taipei China in 1997, where more than four million pigs were slaughtered and financial losses due to the epizootic exceeded two billion US dollars.

During the 66th General Session, the Brazilian states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul were added to the list of zones free from foot and mouth disease (where vaccination is practised), as were El Salvador and an area of Botswana (where no vaccination is practised).

The emergence of hitherto unknown variants of the serotype A foot and mouth disease virus is causing concern to Asian and European health authorities, because existing vaccines give poor protection against these new strains.

In 1997, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia continued to be a major concern in Africa, with the exception of North Africa. The disease entered Zambia in April 1997. The disease was successfully eradicated in Botswana. In the rest of the world, only Bangladesh, Pakistan, Portugal and Qatar reported the presence of the disease in their regions.

Classical swine fever has recently made a spectacular comeback world-wide. Following the introduction of infected pigs into Costa Rica, the country experienced 17 outbreaks of the disease in 1997. In the Dominican Republic, the disease was first identified in the border zone with Haiti, then spread to other regions of the country. In Mexico, there was an increase in the number of reported outbreaks in 1997 due to the strengthening of surveillance in the still infected zones, whereas the number decreased in Cuba. In September 1997, Indonesia reported the appearance of classical swine fever for the first time in the province of East Timor. The disease was also reported among pigs in numerous western and central European countries, and, in some cases, among wild boar (Italy and very recently Switzerland).

African swine fever persists in certain Sub-Saharan African countries where it sometimes causes significant losses, as no vaccine is available; serious epizootics were reported this year in Benin, the Cape Verde Islands and Togo.

African horse sickness was eradicated in Europe and North Africa several years ago and is now only reported in some African countries south of the Sahara.

Newcastle disease can infect birds in practically all countries of the world, including farmed poultry, pets and migratory wild birds. In the poultry farming sector it can be controlled by slaughtering or vaccination.

During the second quarter of 1997, three outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza were reported in Hong Kong. In this territory, 18 human cases of influenza were attributed to a strain of the serotype H5N1 influenza virus, which had hitherto been isolated only in birds. The disease was also diagnosed among birds in Australia (one outbreak due to serotype H7N4) and Italy (seven outbreaks due to serotype H5N2).

Other less severe or less contagious diseases (the so-called ‘List B’ diseases) are nevertheless a source of great concern in some regions:

Bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis in small ruminants, trypanosomosis and other blood parasitic diseases amongst cattle (in Africa) and horses (in Asia and Latin America), rabies and New World screwworm due to the Chrysomya bezziana fly. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) still remains one of the most worrying infections for health authorities, due to the possibility of its transmission to humans(6).

Among the most important decisions taken during the Session was the adoption of a revised chapter for the International Animal Health Code concerning BSE. The previous chapters were written in 1992, 1995 and 1996. This updated chapter takes into account the latest scientific information, discussed by a joint OIE/WHO Ad hoc Expert Group meeting in Paris in January 1998. This chapter endeavours to provide a clearer definition of the different risk analysis elements by describing, for example, the way in which surveillance of the disease should be carried out in the country.

The description of the conditions that must be fulfilled for a country to be recognised as free from BSE has been modified to take into account all of the criteria involved in risk analysis. A number of recommendations on BSE remain under study. This manner of proceeding was chosen to clearly identify the important questions for which no reply has as yet been found and on which the OIE will continue to work over the next few months.

Semen, deproteinised tallow and dicalcium phosphate, as well as gelatine and collagen prepared exclusively from hides and skins, have been added to the list of products that should not be subject to any international trade restrictions, if from healthy cattle.

New articles were adopted dealing with international trade in gelatine and collagen prepared from bones, as well as trade in tallow that is not deproteinised.

The incidence of BSE in 1997, compared with 1996, declined in the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland; it remained virtually stable in Ireland and Portugal. For the first time, Belgium and Luxembourg each reported a single indigenous case, and the Netherlands reported two. Germany reported two imported cases.

Each year, direct or indirect losses associated with the development or spread of contagious animal diseases total billions of US dollars. These losses can be even higher without control measures. A considerable effort has been made to control such diseases. The Office International des Epizooties, in close cooperation with the main international organisations concerned, is stepping up its efforts to disseminate information and to harmonise regulations aimed at their prevention or control. During the 66th General Session, the International Committee thus recommended that the OIE Member Countries improve their data collection systems on epizootics, in order to facilitate their control by emergency intervention measures. These activities should be based on close collaboration between national health authorities, laboratory officials, professionals and relevant international organisations.

The two plenary Technical Items discussed were:

  • Forecasting systems using the laboratory and epidemiology to prevent outbreaks of existing and emerging diseases
  • Strengthening Veterinary Services through restructuring and the participation of the private sector and specific groups

Paris, 29 May 1998

(1) According to the most recent FAO/OIE/WHO yearbook, the world animal population is estimated at 1.3 billion cattle (including 229 million dairy cows and 156 million buffaloes), 1.7 billion small ruminants, 900 million pigs, 58 million horses, 19 million camelidae and 12.2 billion poultry.

(2) The OIE regularly publishes an update on the world animal health situation on its World Wide Web site (http://www.oie.int), together with a list of countries recognised as free from foot and mouth disease. This site also contains a large amount of general information on the most serious animal diseases (land and aquatic mammals, fish, bees, etc.), as well as on the regulation of international trade in such animals and their by-products, laboratory techniques, biotechnology, etc.

(3) FAO = Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

(4) WTO = World Trade Organization

(5) WHO = World Health Organization

(6) Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or ‘mad cow disease’ is a disease of the nervous system in adult cattle. It has been reported mainly in the United Kingdom (over 174 000 cases since 1987). In recent years, some cattle exported from the United Kingdom have succumbed to BSE in Canada, Denmark, the Falkland Islands, Germany, the Sultanate of Oman and Italy. According to the OIE, these countries or territories can be considered as free from BSE. Apart from the United Kingdom, seven other European countries have reported indigenous cases: Ireland (290 cases), Switzerland (272 cases), Portugal (120 cases), France (34 cases), Belgium (4 cases), the Netherlands (2 cases) and Luxembourg (1 case). Epidemiological studies of affected cattle in these countries have, in most cases, shown potential exposure to protein products of animal origin supplied by carcass-disposal establishments.

In order to avoid any threat to public health, OIE and WHO regulations have, since the early 1990s, taken into account the possible link between BSE and another spongiform encephalopathy transmissible to humans: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Contact : Maria Zampaglione

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