Press release

New study shows early detection of foot-and-mouth disease could help limit culling  

Published on
June 28, 2017

Pre-clinical diagnosis could be key to helping control the transmission of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) in the event of an outbreak, a new study from scientists at The Pirbright Institute and Wageningen Bioveterinary Research has concluded.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a contagious viral disease that infects cloven-hoofed (two-toed) mammals such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and various wildlife species. The virus is easily spread by direct contact with infected animals or contaminated feed, or indirectly via contaminated objects but can also be airborne. During an outbreak, current control and eradication methods rely on rapid clinical detection and the removal of infected herds.

In this new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology the Pirbright - Wageningen research team combined their expertise in both FMDV and mathematical modelling to evaluate the methods and effects of preclinical diagnosis during surveillance (as would be in place during an outbreak), in order to reduce the risk of transmission between herds of cattle on neighbouring farms.

Transmission experiments in cattle were used to collect samples taken from individual animals such as blood, saliva and nasal swabs, and at herd level such as air samples, on a daily basis during the course of infection. The sensitivity of each of these types of samples for the detection of infected cattle during different phases of infection was then quantified.

Dr. Simon Gubbins, Head of Transmission Biology at Pirbright said: “Our results were incorporated into a mathematical model for FMDV transmission in a cattle herd in order to evaluate the impact of early detection and removal of an infected herd on the reduction in the amount of infectious output which could enable transmission of the virus to cattle on a neighbouring farm.

“By using weekly surveillance, clinical inspection alone was found to be ineffective at blocking transmission. This was in contrast to the impact of weekly sampling using saliva swabs of at least ten animals per farm or daily air sampling (for housed cattle), both of which were shown to reduce the risk of transmission substantially.”

Dr. José Gonzáles from Wageningen Bioveterinary Research added: “These findings provide a new approach to disease control which could be added to our emergency preparedness programmes. A potential benefit of applying this strategy is a reduction in the number of animals culled unnecessarily, which is likely to happen when traditional strategies such as pre-emptive culling are implemented.”

Following these promising initial results, the Pirbright - Wageningen research team plan to take their approach from the controlled conditions of the laboratory and test it in field trials. If successful, they hope it will help to reduce the social and economic impact of one of the world’s most devastating livestock diseases.

This study was funded by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (grants SE2814 and SE2815) and by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (grant BB/E/I/00001717).

About The Pirbright Institute

The Pirbright Institute is a world leading centre of excellence in research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Based in the UK and receiving strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Institute works to enhance capability to contain, control and eliminate these economically and medically important diseases through highly innovative fundamental and applied bioscience.

With an annual income of nearly £26.1 million from grants and commercial activity, and a total of £5 million strategic investment from BBSRC during 2016-2017, the Institute contributes to global food security and health, improving quality of life for animals and people. For more information about The Pirbright Institute see:

About Wageningen Bioveterinary Research

Wageningen Bioveterinary Research contributes to the prevention, eradication and control of animal infectious diseases through research, diagnostics and consultancy. By doing so, we help to guarantee international trade and to preserve the international top position of the Dutch livestock industry. Furthermore, we offer high quality routine analyses and provide innovative solutions to veterinary and biomedical research questions.

By listening to our customers we are able to provide innovative tailor made solutions for complex challenges. We offer bioveterinary research on health and (infectious) diseases e.g. in preclinical and clinical studies, animal models, (quantitative) epidemiology and risk management assessment. The results of this research and analyses have been utilized to support dossiers submitted to regulatory authorities in Europe and the US.

Our expertise is continuously expanding by ongoing research projects for private and public stakeholders on topics such as antibiotic resistance, vaccine development, gut health and vector borne diseases. For more information about Wageningen Bioveterinary Research see:


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by Government, BBSRC invested £473 million in world leading bioscience, people and research infrastructure in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: