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Alert over deadly tilapia virus outbreak

ROME (Xinhua) – A highly contagious disease is spreading among farmed and wild tilapia, one of the world’s most important fish for human consumption, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Friday.

The Rome-based UN agency said the outbreak should be treated with concern, and countries importing tilapias should take appropriate risk-management measures, including intensifying diagnostics testing, enforcing health certificates, deploying quarantine measures and developing contingency plans.

According to a Special Alert released by FAO’s Global Information and Early Warnings System (GIEWS), Tilapia Lake Virus (TiLV) has now been confirmed in five countries on three continents: Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Israel and Thailand.

While the pathogen poses no public health concern, it can decimate infected tilapia population. In 2015, world tilapia production, from both aquaculture and capture, amounted to 6.4 million tons, with an estimated value of $9.8 billion, and worldwide trade was valued at $1.8 billion. The fish is a mainstay of global food security and nutrition, GIEWS said.

The FAO also said tilapia producing countries need to be vigilant, and should follow aquatic animal-health code protocols of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) when trading tilapia. They should initiate an active surveillance program to determine the presence or absence of TiLV, the geographic extent of the infection and identify risk factors that may help contain it.

According to the food agency, actively TiLV surveillance is being conducted in China, India, Indonesia and it is planned to start in the Philippines. In Israel, an epidemiological retrospective survey is expected to determine factors influencing low survival rates and overall mortalities, including the relative importance of TiLV. In addition, a private company is currently working on the development of live attenuated vaccine for TiLV.