FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE
Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) is a highly infectious viral disease that affects cloven-hooved animals. Cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and deer are highly susceptible to FMD. Signs of infection occur in most affected species within one to five days, but sheep and goats may never show outward evidence.
FMD is incurable. It is caused by a virus which survives in the lymph nodes and bone marrow but dies in the muscle (meat) upon the onset of rigor mortis after death. There are seven or more types and 60+ subtypes of the virus, and it is constantly mutating, making preventative vaccination impractical and ineffective. FMD easily crosses species in all cloven-hooved animals. Deer and other species of wildlife can rapidly become infected and may re-infect domestic livestock. FMD is not zoonotic (transmissable to humans).
Outward evidence of infection includes blisters in the mouth, on the lips and tongue, on the feet and between the toes, and on the teats. These blisters burst easily, forming lesions on the tissues. Excessive salivating and lameness are probably the best known signs of FMD, though each of these conditions may be the result of other illnesses or injuries.
Other symptoms include sticky, stringy, foamy saliva; animals go off-feed because eating is painful; ruptured blisters discharging cloudy or clear fluid and leaving raw, ragged areas of loose tissue; rapid rise in body temperature, dropping to normal in two to three days; lowered conception rates; reduced milk production by females; abortions.
Once the virus runs its course, many infected animals recover but they remain in bad shape and take many months to regain lost weight. Young animals (particularly newborns) often die from the ravages of FMD.
FMD is not communicable to humans, dogs, or cats and does not affect food safety. However, humans, dogs, and cats can be carriers and transmit the disease through contaminated clothing, footwear, equipment, fur, bedding, vehicles, garbage, water, and food. In at-risk species of livestock, infected males can transmit the disease to females via diseased semen. The virus can survive in human nasal passages for up to 28 hours.
Foot-and-Mouth Disease can be confused with other less harmful illnesses having similar symptoms. Vesicular stomatitis is a viral disease which outward signs are identical to those of FMD. The only way to tell the two diseases apart is through lab testing. Occasionally vesicular stomatitis transmits to humans. In the United States, VS occurs in the summer and early fall and usually runs its course in about 14 days. Soremouth and blue tongue can also be mistaken for Foot-and-Mouth Disease.
The United States is an FMD-free country, having eradicated all outbreaks by 1929. This is not true of many other countries. Because the disease is 100% infective, spreads rapidly, mutates frequently, crosses species, and destroys meat and milk production, its effect on our economy would be devastating and run into the billions of dollars.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture is charged with preventing FMD from entering the United States. APHIS monitors FMD outbreaks worldwide. APHIS requires all travellers entering the United States to declare animal and plant products (including food items) on customs declarations. Visits to livestock facilities, including individual farms, must also be disclosed in writing. Private veterinarians have been alerted to watch domestic livestock for symptoms of FMD and to report them to APHIS. The agency works with the US armed forces to make sure that returning military equipment and vehicles are disinfected before entering the United States. APHIS also conducts an on-going public awareness campaign to familiarize Americans with the dangers of FMD.
Vaccines are available in killed-virus form through the North American FMD Vaccine Bank, currently located at the USDA's Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL) at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center off the coast of Long Island, New York. These vaccines are not available to livestock producers but instead are administered by the USDA's personnel when an outbreak occurs. Because there are so many types and sub-types of the FMD virus and since the virus continually mutates, it is virtually impossible to vaccinate against all types of FMD. It is akin to the flu virus . . . last year's vaccine may not work against this year's new strain.
The FMD vaccine in all its variations is not preventative. Instead, it keeps infected animals from developing symptoms within about a week of being vaccinated. This, in turn, helps to contain the spread of FMD by creating barriers between disease-free and infected areas. Because the vaccine suppresses the symptoms (blisters, heavy salivation), it helps slow down the spread of FMD. Remember, this disease is 100% infectious.
Long-term use of the vaccine can be effective in controlling but not eliminating outbreaks of FMD. The United States has enjoyed an FMD-free status for purposes of international trade since 1929 and doesn't want to lose it; use of vaccine would take away that FMD-free status, so this is not considered an option. Currently there are major research projects underway to improve the protection afforded by FMD vaccine. These projects are focused on genetically-designed vaccines which will stimulate protection against several strains of Foot-and-Mouth Disease simultaneously.
The USDA's solution (and that of other nations' governmental agencies worldwide) to eradicating FMD is to "de-populate" (kill) every cloven-hooved animal within the infected areas. This has a huge negative economic impact upon the producer but is deemed by those in positions of authority to be less damaging than to allow all susceptible species to contract the disease and let it run its course. The ultimate result in other countries has been that the governments have decided that taxpayers will pay the producers "fair market value" for all destroyed livestock rather than letting them lose everything as animals die one by one. This approach will likely be followed by the United States Government, should FMD ever arrive on our shores again.
In the meantime, it is the responsibility of every person in the USA, particularly travellers and livestock producers, to remain vigilant for signs of Foot-and-Mouth Disease and to report suspected animals to a licensed veterinarian, who in turn will contact the appropriate authorities.
The information contained in this article came from APHIS (1-800-601-9327) and Bob Glass, President of Pan American Vet Laboratory in Austin, Texas. Mr. Glass may be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 1-800-856-9655.
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