ROME Italy (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 U.S. dollars, and worldwide trade
was valued at 1.8 billion dollars. 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
Organisation 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 relative importance of TiLV.
In addition, a private company is currently working on the
development of live attenuated vaccine for TiLV.
It is not currently
known whether the disease can be transmitted via frozen tilapia
products, but “it is likely that TiLV may have a wider
distribution than is known today and its threat to tilapia
farming at the global level is significant,” GIEWS said in its
FAO data show,
China, Indonesia and Egypt are the three leading aquaculture
producers of tilapia, a fish deemed to have great potential for
expansion in sub-Saharan Africa.