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Worldwide production of Tilapia, the 'poor man's fish' could possibly be wiped out by a deadly virus

Just when computer networks around the world was hit by the WannaCry virus in May 2017, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in a Special Alert issued on 26 May 2017 warned that an emerging viral disease observed in both wild and farmed tilapia could impact global food security and nutrition if bio-safety measures are not introduced.

Most Asians grew up eating tilapia. In fact, it used to be a regular weekly feature for most not well to do families in Asia which earned the fish the nickname - the “poor man’s fish”.

Tilapia is the world’s second most farmed fish, mainly due to its resistance to disease. Tilapia grows quickly, and it has rapidly become a vital source of cheap protein for growing populations in the developing world as wild fish stocks dwindle. It is the 4th most consumed fish in the United States. Freshwater tilapia is second only to carp as the world’s most widely farmed fish, and China is the largest producer worldwide.

With global production of farmed tilapia reaching 6.3 million tonnes in 2018 and an estimated market value of US$9.8 billion, the little fish is big business. That’s because it is an essential source of protein, revenue and employment in the developing world. The virus identified as Tilapia lake virus, or Tilapia tilapinevirus, is highly contagious. 

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the intergovernmental organisation coordinating, supporting and promoting animal disease control, held a Global Conference on Aquatic Animal Health in Santiago, Chile in April 2019 declared a worldwide emergency and asked for heightened awareness of the virus. 

OIE issued a guideline along the following parameters:-

  1. notification,

  2. surveillance, 

  3. epidemiological survey and 

  4. early detection.

OIE offers free screening and promotes regular awareness and training on good husbandry methods as part of their efforts to contain and manage this virus.

The guidelines issued by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) for good husbandry in managing the outbreak of the virus against tilapia is eerily similar to the calls made by cybersecurity professionals to all internet users - practise good internet hygiene. Even the guideline parameters are very much the same as the standard cybersecurity framework adopted by most organisations.

According to Wikipedia a virus is a small infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to micro-organisms, including bacteria. 

And in computer terminology, virus is a piece of code which is capable of copying itself and typically has a detrimental effect, such as corrupting the system or destroying data.


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