An outbreak of new strain of foot and mouth disease (FMD) has hit Egypt and threatens to spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East, endangering food security in the region, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported on its website on Thursday.

Egypt suspects 40,222 cases of the disease and 4,658 animals, mostly calves, have already died, the FAO said in a statement.

"Although foot-and-mouth disease has circulated in the country for some years, this is an entirely new introduction of a virus strain known as SAT2, and livestock have no immune protection against it," the Rome-based agency said.

Vaccines are urgently needed for the 6.3 million buffalo and cattle and 7.5 million sheep and goats that are threatened by the new SAT2 virus, the FAO said.

"The area around the Lower Nile Delta appears to be severely affected, while other areas in Upper Egypt and the west appear less so," Juan Lubroth, FAO's Chief Veterinary Officer, said, calling for immediate and strong action to prevent the spread of the disease.

While FMD is not a direct threat to humans, the disease is easily spread and can be fatal to the cloven-hoofed animals it affects like sheep, goats, cattle, buffalo and pigs.

Meat and milk produced from sick animals are unsafe for consumption, not because the disease affects people, but because produce entering the food chain must come from animals that are known to be healthy, the organization said.

Vaccines can sometimes take up to two weeks to confer immunity, and the joint efforts to improve biosecurity measures to contain the disease are urgently needed, said the FAO emergency team that visited Egypt last week.

The FAO said that people should limit animal movements, avoid contact with animals from other farms, avoid buying animals in the immediate terms as they may have come from contaminate places, preferably by burning carcasses.