The Facts About Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious virus that affects all cloven-hoofed animals, including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and deer.

| October/November 2001

  • Foot and Mouth Disease
    All cloven-hoofed animals (cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, bison, deer and more) can be affected by foot-and-mouth disease. Horses are not susceptible.
    Photo courtesy ISTOCKPHOTO/BOB BEALE

  • Foot and Mouth Disease

Kathy H. struggled to shove her carry-on bag into the overhead compartment. She had just spent two weeks visiting distant relatives in England's farm country, and stashed deep inside the bag was a pork sausage made there on her cousin's farm. Kathy owned a dude ranch in northern Colorado, and was returning from her first vis it to Europe. She had no way of knowing that in a little more than seven hours, her in nocent, apparently small act of smuggling would lead to the most devastating outbreak of a contagious disease in American livestock since an outbreak of foot-and-mouth dis ease in 1929. Her actions would lead to the mass slaughter of millions of animals andthe economic demise of thousands of farmers and ranchers.

Although Kathy's story is strictly hypothetical, it is completely conceivable. Consider the reality:

Transmission of Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious virus that affects all cloven-hoofed livestock, including cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. It is the most contagious livestock disease, and, according to one U.S. Department of Agriculture official, "moves like wildfire." More exotic livestock, such as l lamas, elk, deer, bison, bears, armadillos, hedgehogs and elephants, are also susceptible. The disease can easily be transmitted in the air, by direct contact or by ingestion. Air currents and wind can transmit virus particles from heavily infected animals up to 40 miles away.

The virus can be carried in uncooked, underprocessed meat, fat, and milk or food items produced from them (such as sausage, for instance). Virus particles can be transmitted on contaminated inanimate objects like soil, clothing and shoes, surviving up to 46 days at room temperature.

As she headed through customs, Kathy noticed signs instructing arriving passengers who had been to England to have their shoes disinfected in foot baths. The customs officer specifically asked her if she had visited any farms or had any food products in her possession. She felt herself flushing as she fibbed, hoping her sausage could make it home as a gift for a friend.

The customs official gave her a quick glance, lingering momentarily on Kathy's reddened face. She looked innocent enough, and he nodded her through his portal without a baggage search. She stepped into the foot bath, then wheeled her luggage under the towering tent poles that supported Denver International's massive white roof, heading toward her pickup parked in the outer lot.

The United Kingdom Outbreak

The United Kingdom has been Ground Zero for the recent foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Europe. On February 19, 2001, a routine veterinary inspection near Essex revealed 27 pigs with signs highly suspicious of foot-and-mouth. A day later, the U.K.'s Ministry of Agriculture confirmed the outbreak.


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