The role of African buffalo in the epidemiology of foot-and-mouth disease in sympatric cattle and buffalo populations in Kenya

George P. Omondi, Francis Gakuya, Jonathan Arzt, Abraham Sangula, Ethan Hartwig, Steven Pauszek, George Smoliga, Barbara Brito, Andres Perez, Vincent Obanda, Kimberly VanderWaal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Quantitative knowledge on the contribution of African buffalo to the epidemiology of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV) in East Africa is lacking, and this information is essential for the design of control programs in the region. The objective of this study was to investigate the epidemiology of FMDV in buffalo, including the role of buffalo in the circulation of FMDV in livestock populations. We collected blood and oropharyngeal fluids from 92 wild buffalo and 98 sympatric cattle in central Kenya and sequenced the virus’ VP1 coding region. We show that FMDV has a high seroprevalence in buffalo (~77%) and targeted cattle (~93%). In addition, we recovered 80 FMDV sequences from buffalo, all of which were serotype SAT1 and SAT2, and four serotype O and A sequences from sympatric cattle. Notably, six individual buffalo were co-infected with both SAT1 and SAT2. Amongst sympatric buffalo and cattle, the fact that no SAT1 or 2 sequences were found in cattle suggests that transmission of FMDV from buffalo to sympatric cattle is rare. Similarly, there was no evidence that serotype O and A sequences found in cattle were transmitted to buffalo. However, viruses from FMDV outbreaks in cattle elsewhere in Kenya were closely related to SAT1 and SAT2 viruses found in buffalo in this study, suggesting that FMDV in cattle and buffalo do not constitute independently evolving populations. We also show that fine-scale geographic features, such as rivers, influence the circulation of FMDV in buffalo and that social segregation amongst sympatric herds may limit between-herd transmission. These results significantly advance our understanding of the ecology and molecular epidemiology of FMDV at wildlife–livestock interfaces in East Africa and will help to inform the design of control and surveillance strategies for this disease in the region.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2206-2221
Number of pages16
JournalTransboundary and Emerging Diseases
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and USAID for the funding entered through the Prime Agreement Number AID-OAA-A-11-00012. We are grateful for the management support from the Director, Kenya wildlife Service, FMD Lab in Kenya, and Ol Pejeta Conservancy. We appreciate the technical field assistance from Joseph Kabugi, Elsie Maina, John Kariuki, Edward King'ori and Stephanie Hauver Lemaiyan. This research was also supported in part by USDA-ARS CRIS 8064-32000-061-00D.


  • community ecology
  • livestock-wildlife interface
  • molecular epidemiology
  • phylogenetics
  • socio-spatial dynamics

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article

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