The foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) crisis of 2001 in the United Kingdom received a great deal of media attention and resulted in confusion regarding the differences between foot-and-mouth disease and Mad Cow disease, which is also of animal origin. As a result of the FMD outbreak, over 6 million animals were slaughtered.
According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, foot-and-mouth disease is a highly infectious disease of cloven-hoofed animals, particularly cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer, and is one of the most difficult animal infections to control. It is caused by a virus that has seven different types distinguishable only in the laboratory. FMD occurs very rarely in humans, but it has the potential to cause severe economic loss to producers. The virus has been found in Africa, South America, Asia, and part of Europe. North America, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and some countries in Europe are considered free of FMD. Strict import controls are in place to prevent the spread of the disease.
The disease is serious for animal health. While FMD is not normally fatal to adult animals, it is incapacitating and causes significant loss of productivity. For example, milk yields may drop or animals may become lame. In young animals, fatalities are more likely to occur.
Symptoms in animals include fever and blister-like lesions followed by erosions on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats, and between the hooves. While most affected animals do recover, they are left debilitated and may continue to carry the disease, leading to severe losses in their production of meat and milk.
Foot-and-mouth disease does not occur in humans.
The virus is spread when animals, people or materials carry it directly to susceptible animals. Aerosol infection occurs when the virus enters the respiratory tract. Viruses can contaminate animal feed and be ingested. The specific infection route influences the minimum infectious dose as well as the susceptibility of the animal host.
Preventing the potential spread of contaminated materials to non-infected animals is key to the control of FMD. Contamination sources can include clothing, footwear, facilities, vehicles, garbage that contains infected animal products, and animals that carry the virus. Control also needs to be exercised around common feed and water sources that infected animals may have used. Infected bulls should not be used for insemination.
Various countries, including the United States, frequently restrict imports of livestock and animal biological materials – including uncooked meat, vaccines, and similar products –from countries that have FMD.
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