Foot and Mouth Disease

FAQ Index


    What Is Foot And Mouth Disease?

    Foot-and-mouth disease is a severe, highly communicable viral disease of cattle and swine. It also affects sheep, goats, deer, and other cloven-hoofed ruminant animals.

    What Does FMD Look Like?

    Symptoms of FMD include blisters around the mouth or on the feet, reduced appetite, and lameness. The disease itself is characterized by fever and blister-like lesions followed by erosions on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats, and between the hooves.

    What Does FMD Do To Animals?

    Many animals recover, but the disease leaves them debilitated. It causes severe losses in production of meat and milk. Because it spreads widely and rapidly and because it has grave economic and clinical consequences, FMD is one of the animal diseases that livestock owners dread most. .

    What's The Big Deal?

    Although the U.S. has been free of FMD since 1929, the disease is one of the most difficult animal infections to control. Today, only three areas remain free of FMD: North America, Australia and Antarctica. Because the disease occurs in many parts of the world, there is always a chance of its accidental introduction into the U.S. That chance has been heightened recently by a major outbreak in the United Kingdom, which has already spread to continental Europe. The European Union is a major U.S. trading partner. If an outbreak occurred in U.S., this disease could spread rapidly to all sections of the country by routine livestock movements unless it was detected early and eradicated immediately. Livestock producers are key to early detection and eradication.

    What Is The Cost To The Livestock Industry?

    The Illinois livestock industry is a major economic contributor to the rural, urban, and state economies. Illinois' nearly 2 million head of cattle, 4 million hogs, 120,000 dairy cows, and 74,000 sheep and goats consume hundreds of millions of dollars worth of animal feed each year. In terms of jobs, it is estimated that Illinois employment attributable to these products are as follows: 26,000 in cattle; 6,500 in pork, 2,200 in dairy, and 2,400 in sheep and goats. These jobs do not include professions in zoos, or attributable to other hoofed animals like llamas, deer, bison, etc.

    Nationwide, the animal livestock sector contributes billions of dollars to the U.S. economy. Exports are also significant. For beef and pork and their variety meats alone, the U.S. exports nearly 2 million metric tons each year, valued at nearly $5 billion. These numbers do not include exports of hides and skins, livestock genetics, and other products.

    The FMD outbreak in the UK had already cost more than $10 billion and costs are escalating daily. If the U.S. were to face a severe outbreak of FMD, the costs of eradication and losses to the livestock industry would total billions of dollars. The best way to lessen these costs is through early detection and eradication.

    What Causes FMD?

    The disease is caused by a virus that can persist in contaminated feed and the environment for up to one month, depending on the temperature and soil conditions. There are at least seven separate strains and many subtypes of the FMD virus. Immunity to one type does not protect an animal against other types.

    Is There A Vaccine And Is It Available?

    While there is a vaccine available for FMD, it is not a perfect solution for several reasons, including: 1) the vaccine must match the strain of each individual FMD outbreak, therefore, until an outbreak occurs and is confirmed, the appropriate vaccine may not be determined; 2) the vaccine is not very long-lasting and animals would need to be revaccinated in 4-6 months to prevent further spread; 3) the vaccine does not protect all animals from FMD, even though it would help slow the spread of the disease; 4) once a nation vaccinates its animals for FMD, they are technically "carriers" of the disease and that nation loses it's FMD-free status in terms of trading (exporting) its animals and animal products to other nations. In order to re-gain FMD-free status, that nation must destroy all vaccinated animals. Ninety days after that has occurred, that nation may again achieve FMD-free status.

    Regarding vaccine availability, the federal government can currently provide 2 million doses of the relevant vaccine (once determined) per week. The nationwide requirement (should a large outbreak occur) is probably in the order of 80 million doses. The federal government would have to approve ratcheting up production of the vaccine as necessary.

    How Is FMD Spread?

    • The FMD virus can be spread by animals, people or materials that bring the virus into physical contact with susceptible animals. An outbreak can occur when:
    • People wearing contaminated clothes or footwear or using contaminated equipment to pass the virus to susceptible animals.
    • Animals carrying the virus are introduced into susceptible herds.
    • Contaminated facilities are used to hold susceptible animals.
    • Contaminated vehicles are used to move susceptible animals.
    • Raw or improperly cooked garbage containing infected meat or animal products is fed to susceptible animals.
    • Susceptible animals are exposed to materials such as hay, feedstuffs, hides, or biologics contaminated with the virus.
    • Susceptible animals drink common source contaminated water.
    • A susceptible cow is inseminated by semen from an infected bull.

    What Kills FMD?

    Foot and mouth disease is killed by heat, low humidity and certain disinfections, such as household bleach. However, the virus remains very stable in a frozen state, surviving in chilled carcasses.

    Will FMD Harm Humans?

    Foot and mouth disease is not considered a human health threat, although humans can be carriers of the disease and infect susceptible animals. The virus can live on clothing, in hair, or nasal passages.

    What Is The Difference Between FMD & BSE?

    Foot and mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as BSE and mad cow disease are not related in any way and should not be discussed in the same conversations.

    FMD is not considered a human health threat, but can cause severe disruption in the agriculture industry.

    BSE is a class of degenerative neurological diseases that is characterized by a very long incubation period and 100 percent mortality. BSE affects cattle.

    What Is Usda Doing?

    USDA continues to work to safeguard American agriculture from foreign animal diseases like FMD. As part of this effort, USDA's APHIS has certified more than 450 foreign animal disease diagnosticians located throughout the US to investigate every instance of potential foreign animal diseases.

    USDA has instituted a ban on the import of meat and meat products, along with some other agricultural products, including live swine and ruminant animals, from countries affected by FMD.

    USDA is urging livestock owners and private veterinary practitioners to report any unusual animal health symptoms to their local agricultural officials.  When an investigation is conducted, the location is placed under quarantine until laboratory tests confirm whether or not the condition is FMD.

    If an outbreak is detected in the U.S., the FMD Eradication Act allows officials to seize animals, products, buildings, production tools, contaminated feed and seed, etc. Any item requiring destruction must be appraised and an indemnity program must be in place before the government may destroy those items.

    What Is Illinois Doing?

    Illinois government agencies are actively engaged in meetings and activities at the local, state, and national level with state and national producer organizations and others related to livestock production, transport, processing, etc. In addition, the Illinois Department of Agriculture and relevant agencies and offices are actively engaged in the federal program for FMD eradication and have state-level plans in place. The Illinois Department of Agriculture has developed and follows the Illinois Emergency Animal Disease and/or Animals in Disaster Plan. The Illinois Emergency Management Act (IEMA) authorizes the Director of Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) request emergency statutory authority for the Governor, IEMA and the Director of Agriculture to act in event of an FMD outbreak.

    Illinois producer associations are working to inform their members as quickly as possible about the symptoms and implications of the disease for individual producers, for Illinois, and for the nation. As noted earlier, early detection and eradication are absolutely critical to reducing costs associated with an outbreak of FMD in the U.S.

    Questions For Livestock Producers

    1. Is there an indemnity program to compensate producers for infected livestock and other materials (fencing, feed, buildings, etc.)? Yes, there is an indemnity program to compensate producers for infected animals and properties. The FMD Eradication Act mandates that all animals and properties be appraised before they are destroyed by the government.

    2. Is it against the law to move an animal infected with FMD? Yes, there are fines and penalties associated with anyone knowingly transporting an animal infected with FMD.

    3. Does my insurance cover the value of my animals? Producers should read their policies carefully. Early indications are that of the policies examined, neither farm nor mortality policies cover animals infected with FMD.

    What Can Producers Do?

    Producers and others can support U.S. efforts against FMD by:

    1. Watching for slobbering, lameness, and other signs of FMD in your herd and

    2. Immediately reporting any unusual or suspicious signs of disease to your veterinarian, to State or Federal animal disease control officials, or to your county agricultural agent.

    3. Restrict individuals visiting your farm, including family members who have been traveling overseas in recent weeks.

    Emergency numbers for Illinois producers:

    If FMD should appear in your animals, your report will set in motion an effective state and federal eradication program.

    Farmers' participation is vital. Both the early recognition of disease signs and the prompt notification of veterinary officials are essential if that warning is to prevent FMD from becoming established in the U.S. Or if it does become established and spreads, your help will reduce the time and money needed to wipe it out.

    What Can Others Do?

    Foreign travelers who may have been exposed to the virus should not visit a farm within 10 days of their return. Foreign travelers should also disinfect footwear with bleach and wash their clothing before returning to the United States.