Foot-and-mouth disease is an extremely communicable viral disease affecting mainly cattle and pigs, but can affect sheep, deer and other cloven-hoofed animals. It is normally harmless to humans and not considered a public health risk, but the virus can be spread to animals by humans on clothing and shoes. Foot and mouth disease is different from hand, foot, and mouth disease, which is only seen in humans.
About: It is a member of the genus Aphthovirus in the family Picornaviridae,. There are seven serotypes of foot-and-mouth disease and over 60 subtypes.
The disease is not generally fatal but the resulting debilitation can lead to severe losses in milk and meat production. The average mortality rate is less than 1% but can be as high as 40%.
Symptoms include fever and blisters or lesions on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, between the hooves and on the teats and decreased milk production, lameness, and reluctance to move.
The incubation period is 3 to 5 days from contact to showing signs in an infected animal.
Transmission is mainly from one infected animal to another both directly and indirectly.
The virus can also be passed from human to animal via the human respiratory system where the virus can live for 24 to 48 hours.
Human clothing and footwear that has come in contact with infected animals as well as the vehicles used to transport them, holding pens, meat, meat by-products and semen of infected animals can cause contamination, as well as a water source common to sick and healthy animals.
There is NO universal vaccination for the more than 60 different strains of the virus.
North America, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Chile have programs that have effectively eliminated the virus.
Africa, South America, Asia and Europe have all had some form of the virus.
Terror Threat of Foot-and-Mouth Disease: Because it spreads so fast and does great damage to the agricultural economy, foot-and-mouth disease is considered a potential terror threat.
Security officials have said the pathogens that cause foot-and-mouth disease would be easy for terrorists to obtain and spread through U.S. food distributors.
As of January 1, 2013 - There are approximately 89.3 million cattle in the U.S.
As of February 2013 - There are 67.5 million hogs and pigs and 5.34 million sheep and lambs.
2003 - Classified a national security issue by the Dept of Homeland Security.
The disease is one of the subjects studied at Plum Island, New York, a government research facility once under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, now under Homeland Security. Plum Island is 100 miles northeast of New York on Long Island Sound.
Outbreaks: The U.S. has not had an outbreak of foot-and-mouth since 1929.
There were outbreaks in the U.S. in 1870, 1880, 1884, 1902, 1908, 1914 and 1924.
2001 - The United Kingdom has a severe outbreak: -Four million animals in the U.K. are destroyed in order to eradicate the disease. (Some sources say six million animals were destroyed.)
-The crisis costs Britain $12 billion, including $4.5 billion the British government pays to farmers affected by the outbreak.
August 3, 2007 - The British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announces that the foot and mouth disease virus was found in 38 samples from cattle on a farm, near Guildford in Surrey, England. -All 38 infected animals were culled, as well as animals on an adjacent farm. One of the additional cows tested positive for the illness, according to DEFRA.
-Merial Animal Health, a pharmaceutical company that manufactures animal vaccines for the authorities in the U.K. and abroad, suspends production at its Pirbright laboratory near the farm where the virus was detected. The strain of the highly infectious virus responsible for the foot-and-mouth outbreak is the same as one produced at the Pirbright facility.
August 6, 2007 - The European Union Commission announces a ban on all live animals, fresh meat and milk products from Great Britain -- except Northern Ireland.
November 2010 - After a severe outbreak in South Korea, authorities impose quarantines, initiate a vaccination campaign, and cull 2.2 million livestock. The overall estimated cost is around $1.6 billion. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)