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IAEA Helps Bulgaria Tackle Cattle Disease with Nuclear-Derived Technique

Vienna, Austria

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is providing laboratory support and expertise to help Bulgaria battle a cattle disease that can cause significant economic losses to farmers.

In response to a request from Bulgarian authorities, the planned assistance totalling EUR 50,000 will enable the fast and accurate detection of the virus that triggers lumpy skin disease, which can spread quickly within herds and affect milk, beef and leather production. The IAEA is delivering this support in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the European Commission.

Common in Africa and the Middle East, the infectious disease has occurred in parts of south-eastern Europe in recent years. It has a mortality rate of up to 10 percent, according to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The OIE says the disease should be notified to authorities so that rapid action can be taken to contain it.

The IAEA’s assistance includes support in using a nuclear-derived technique – Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) – to detect the virus within three hours. PCR has previously been deployed to help West Africa cope with the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and the H5N1 avian influenza in 2015, and Latin America during this year’s Zika virus emergency. The Agency will also deliver laboratory material, including reagents, primers and probes.

“The early and accurate detection of lumpy skin disease is essential in order to take appropriate measures to contain spreads, such as imposing cattle movement restriction and culling,” said Technical Officer Ivancho Naletoski of the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.

“Due to the increased demand for vaccines, the producer from South Africa cannot quickly meet demand from abroad.”

Upon notification in April, IAEA staff carried out expert visits to laboratories in Bulgaria to advise on improved PCR testing procedures and help determine the extent of the spread of the disease. In addition, the IAEA is assisting Bulgaria and its neighbours in developing harmonized laboratory testing procedures and in submitting samples to international reference laboratories.

Lumpy skin disease is transmitted through direct contact with infected animals and contaminated products, as well as insect vectors. Skin lesions in affected cattle can damage hides and cause severe emaciation and a halt to milk production. Turkey reported its first cases in 2013, followed by Greece in 2015. The Bulgarian veterinary authorities have so far reported 17 local outbreaks to OIE. The disease does not affect humans.

The joint IAEA/FAO animal production and health laboratory has decades of experience in applying nuclear and nuclear-related techniques to fight various animal and zoonotic diseases, such as rinderpest and avian influenza.  

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