Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)

Agricultural Disaster Preparedness and Recovery November 09, 2016 Print Friendly and PDF

At the ARS Plum Island Animal Disease Center in Orient Point, New York, wildlife ecologist Craig Packer (left) and microbiologist Luis Rodriguez use an infrared thermography camera to identify cattle infected with foot-and-mouth disease virus.
At the ARS Plum Island Animal Disease Center in Orient Point, New York, wildlife ecologist Craig Packer (left) and microbiologist Luis Rodriguez use an infrared thermography camera to identify cattle infected with foot-and-mouth disease virus.
Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) is one of the most infectious viral diseases known. It is a disease of cloven-hoofed animals, such as cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, and deer. It causes blisters or vesicles in the mouth and on teats and the coronary band at the top of the hoof. The virus is capable of rapidly infecting large numbers of animals, but death rates are generally low. Animals with FMD usually recover, but the highly infectious nature and rapid spread of the virus have profound economic consequences.

Part of the economic impact stems from production losses in intensive production systems, such as the dairy industry, where cattle may experience chronic mastitis, poor growth, and permanent hoof damage. An FMD outbreak leads to international economic sanctions, including the loss of export markets. In addition, an outbreak of FMD can severely affect other industries, such as the tourist industry, as restrictions are placed on the movement of people and animals. This was the case in the 2001 outbreak in the United Kingdom.

FMD can spread through contact with contaminated objects, such as clothing and equipment; inhalation of airborne virus; and contact with carrier animals, including birds and rodents. An important mode of entry into an uninfected country such as the United States is through illegal importation of animal products. These products are sometimes fed to animals such as pigs as food waste. The virus multiplies in the new host and an outbreak begins.

Contaminated food scraps are believed to be the cause of the disease outbreaks in the United Kingdom and Taiwan, costing both countries billions of dollars. Early detection is considered essential to limiting the consequences of new disease introductions.

Where Is the Disease Found?

Middle East, Iran, India, southeast Asia, and the southern countries of the former Soviet Union. The United States, Canada, and Europe are considered currently free of this disease. The last outbreak in the U.S. was in California in 1929.

Can the Disease Affect People?

Transmission of the disease from animals to humans is exceptionally rare (one reported case in the UK in 1966) and is not considered a public health threat by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Foot and Mouth Disease is not the same as Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease in humans.

What are Signs of the Disease?

  • Blisters/vesicles on the tongue and teats

  • Blisters/vesicles at hoof/foot junction (coronary band) or between the digits
  • Excessive salivation
  • Anorexia (poor appetite)
  • Lameness
  • Abortion
  • Decreased milk production
  • Sudden death in newborns from inflammation of heart muscle (myocarditis)

Pigs are considered amplifiers of FMD because they exhale large amounts of virus, which can spread by air movement over large distances. Cattle are considered a sentinel species because they exhibit textbook clinical signs of FMD. Sheep are considered a maintenance species because they often have very mild, if any, clinical signs of the disease, but serve to keep the outbreak active.

Can It Be Treated?

There is no specific treatment for FMD. Any animal suspected of having FMD should be reported to the State Veterinarian or USDA Area Veterinarian in Charge immediately. In the event of a positive FMD diagnosis, the United States will begin eradication plans that include stamping out and/or ring vaccination procedures. Under the stamping-out procedure, all premises with infected livestock will be placed under quarantine with animal movement restricted. To prevent the spread of the disease, all infected animals and animals in contact with infected animals will be slaughtered, and the owner will receive financial compensation from the federal government.

How Can the Disease be Prevented?

The main protection against FMD entering the United States is vigilance at the borders. This includes quarantine of live animals and inspection and source verification of meat and dairy products that could carry the virus into the country. An important facet of disease security is education of travelers who may illegally import animal products purchased overseas; these products could enter the animal feed supply.

Spread of FMD within the U.S. may be prevented by following basic farm biosecurity procedures. These procedures include quarantine for any animal coming into the herd and control of animal, vehicle, and human movement onto the farm. In states where it is legal to feed food waste to pigs, regulations for processing garbage by boiling must be followed.

The United States does not conduct preventative vaccination against FMD. In part, this is because animals' antibodies to the vaccine could be confused with antibodies from a disease outbreak, making identification of infected animals difficult. However, vaccination is an option during a disease outbreak to help confine the outbreak to as small a geographic area as possible. Stockpiling vaccines for future use is complicated by the large number of strains of FMD virus and inability to predict which strain will cause the next outbreak.

Current Disease Outbreaks

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) maintains a website listing FMD outbreaks reported by national animal health authorities.

Where Can I Find More Information?

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.