COLUMBUS – Europe’s outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease may be an ocean away, but U.S. livestock producers should still take precautions to keep the disease at bay.
“Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious viral disease,” said Gary Bowman, Ohio State veterinary preventative medicine specialist. “Producers should employ all good biosecurity techniques, and restrict farm visits, especially from anyone who’s recently been overseas.
“They should also know the health status of the animals they purchase, then isolate and observe them closely for 30 days.”
Symptoms are lesions also known as “vesicles,” or blisters around animals’ mouths, lips and feet. Infected animals salivate profusely.
The disease is usually not fatal, but it severely weakens livestock, which greatly reduces their production ability. Swine, sheep, cattle and goats are all susceptible to illness from foot-and-mouth. Horses can carry the disease, but do not get sick.
Foot-and-mouth disease doesn’t affect human health but people can carry the virus in their upper respiratory tracts and spread it to cloven-hoofed animals, Bowman said.
Farm visitors should thoroughly shower and change into a different set of clothes brought from a location known to be unaffected by the disease – preferably the farm itself, said OSU Cooperative Extension Service swine specialist Steve Moeller. “That includes a change of shoes, too,” he said.
Among production animals, swine produce the most airborne virus, and cattle are the most susceptible to infection from the airborne route, Bowman said. The virus can survive for months on a premises, for 10-12 weeks on clothing or in feed, and up to one month on hair.
Hard to kill virus.
The most commonly used disinfectants are not effective against the virus.
“The disease is so contagious, it can go airborne and still be viable after drifting 40 or more miles,” Bowman said. “That’s why they’re so concerned about it spreading from Britain to Ireland or to the mainland.”
In addition, many cured and dried meats carry the virus and can be sources of infection, Bowman said. Uncooked sausages from affected countries can conceivably carry the virus, he said.
There is a lot of concern that the virus could be carried internationally in the food served aboard airliners. Waste food from airports requires special handling to protect a country’s livestock population.
In Britain, the outbreak was traced to untreated “swill,” or garbage, containing contaminated meat ingredients. Feeding garbage to livestock is a rare practice in America, Bowman said. Generally, livestock rations are based on grain, grain byproducts or forages. Garbage fed to livestock must be cooked to kill harmful viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Only the continents of North America, Australia and Antarctica are considered to be free of foot-and-mouth disease. The last reported outbreak in the United States was in 1929.
“We have a stamping out policy in our country regarding foot-and-mouth,” said Simon Kenyon, Purdue Cooperative Extension Service veterinarian. “As soon as an animal is diagnosed with foot-and-mouth, it is slaughtered, along with any contact animals. Great Britain has a stamping out policy, as well.”
Livestock owners who suspect animals may have foot-and-mouth or any other disease they have not seen before should report to a local veterinarian, Kenyon said. In the United States, a rapid test is conducted to diagnose foot-and-mouth, Kenyon said. A sample is taken on the farm and then air freighted to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. After the service receives the sample, it takes two to three hours to confirm and detect the strain, Kenyon said.
It takes approximately 24 hours for the test to be taken on the farm and confirmed with APHIS.
U.S. regulations require animals being transported from one state to another be certified disease-free, Kenyon said.