Foot and Mouth Disease Frequently Asked Questions

Foot and Mouth Disease Frequently Asked Questions
Source: Nigel Perkins, BVSc, MS, DipACT, FACV, ScSenior Lecturer, Veterinary Epidemiology EpiCentre, Massey University, Palmerston, North, New Zealand; Co-opted Board member of NZ Equine Research Foundation. Information courtesy of New Zealand Thoroughbred Marketing.

Note: Foot and Mouth Disease does not cause disease in people. Foot and Mouth Disease does not cause disease in horses.

What is Foot and Mouth Disease?
Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), is an incredibly contagious, viral infection of animals. It causes disease in cloven-hoofed animals: pigs, cattle, sheep, deer and others.

How is FMD spread?
The virus spreads very rapidly by contact between animals, transmission via people or transport, or even through the air. Infected animals begin to excrete large amounts of virus some days before clinical signs first develop, making spread of the disease very likely. Under suitable (windy) conditions, the virus can travel a long distance indeed. It is thought that the last UK outbreak of FMD, which occurred on the Isle of Wight in 1981, was due to virus carried by wind from France. The disease is also readily spread mechanically by the movement of animals, people, vehicles and other things, which have been contaminated by the virus. Even processed meat from the carcass of animals infected with FMD at the time of slaughter can transmit the virus.

What are the symptoms of FMD?
Infected animals develop blisters (vesicles) in the mouth and on the feet (hence the name Foot and Mouth Disease). Death is unusual but animals become sick, lame and unable to eat properly and they rapidly lose weight and productivity.

How is an FMD outbreak managed?
When FMD occurs in a previously free region, a great deal of effort is made to eradicate the disease by slaughtering infected animals and any in-contact animals. This is justified on the basis of the disastrous economic impact the disease has on agricultural industries.

What's now being done to contain & eliminate the disease in the UK?
Because of the ease with which the virus can be spread by movement of animals, vehicles, and people, there has been a huge campaign aimed at minimizing movements in the British countryside. People are being discouraged from driving or even walking through the countryside and from going to church or any other public gathering in rural areas. All animal movements are being strictly controlled. Horse races, pony club events and any other form of animal show or meeting have been postponed or cancelled. Even rugby internationals between countries have been cancelled because of the risk of FMD virus being spread unwittingly by spectators. All of these restrictions are being imposed in the hope that further spread of the infection will be halted, allowing rapid and effective eradication of the disease.

Where can I find more information about FMD and the UK outbreak?
This link is for the official UK Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food web site which has an excellent and very up-to-date review of the outbreak: http://www.maff.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/fmd/default.htm
For information on the disease that is specific to horses: http://www.maff.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/fmd/horses.htm

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