Rural Heritage Vet Clinic

Foot-and-Mouth Disease
by Carla Everett

North America is currently free of foot-and-mouth disease. Let's keep it that way. Australia and Antarctica are the only other continents that are free of the terrible virus.

In the past 18 months foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has been diagnosed in 34 countries. The latest outbreaks occurred in Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Argentina, and France. These outbreaks disrupt the animal industry, including the export of animals and animal products.

Once the infection is introduced, containing it becomes difficult because the disease is caused by a fast-spreading virus. Nearly 100% of the animals in an exposed herd become ill, and young animals may die. All cloven-footed animals are susceptible, including cattle, bison, llamas, swine, sheep, goats, deer, and elk.

Characteristic signs of the infection are blisters in the animal's mouth or on its muzzle, causing slobbering and drooling. Later the blisters break, forming raw patches or ulcers. Blisters and sores may also develop on the animal's teats, causing mastitis in dairy cattle. Blisters on the feet result in lameness. Affected animals are reluctant or unable to drink, eat, or walk and rapidly lose weight.

Swine and cattle usually show signs of disease within two to seven day after being exposed to the virus. Sheep and goats may show only minimal clinical signs after an incubation period of up to14 days.

The disease is transmitted in a variety of ways, the most common being direct contact with an infected animal. Once animals are infected they become virus factories, capable of spreading high numbers of viral particles to other animals and into the environment. Infected swine, in particular, can release millions of viral particles each time they exhale. The airborne virus may be breathed in by nearby susceptible animals.

Humans who have been around infected animals may carry the virus in their nasal passages for as long as 28 hours. Although the disease does not affect humans, a person may spread the virus to susceptible animals.

The disease may also be spread when susceptible animals come into contact with contaminated feed, feeding utensils, vehicles, clothing, or holding facilities.

The FMD virus can be carried in the raw meat, animal products, or milk from FMD-exposed or infected animals. The FMD outbreak in South Africa started after waste food, containing raw meat scraps collected from international ships, was fed to swine.

A single case of FMD would affect every segment of our country's multi-billion dollar animal industry and animal product export market:

  • Consumers would lose confidence in the safety of meat food products.
  • Prohibitions would be placed on the sale and international shipment of animals and animal products.
  • Eradication costs are high. All animals exposed to the virus must be destroyed to prevent its spread.
  • Vaccines provide only temporary protection and revaccination is needed at six-month intervals. Vaccine use is limited to outbreaks only, and vaccinated animals must be slaughtered before international trade can be resumed.
  • For at least three months after the eradication of an outbreak‹or at least three months after the slaughter of the last vaccinated animal‹an affected country is banned from shipping meat or meat products to international trading partners.

The United States. has regulations in place to prevent the introduction of FMD-infected animals and animal products, but so did many of the currently affected countries. Please do your part:

If you will be traveling abroad, or you live overseas and plan to visit the United States, avoid contact with animals or areas where animals have been held for at least five days before you enter to the United States. If you have had contact with livestock, or you live on or have visited a farm abroad, before you travel launder or dry clean all clothing, jackets, and coats, and shower and shampoo. Remove all dirt and organic material from your shoes, luggage, and other personal items. Wipe these items with a disinfectant. Don't bring prohibited products. After arriving in the United States, avoid contact with livestock or wildlife for at least five days.

Suitable Disinfectants

The following products may be used effectively to disinfect against FMD:

  • Sodium hydroxide (lye) 2% solution. Mix a 13-ounce can in five gallons of water.
  • Sodium carbonate (soda ash) 4% solution. Mix one pound in three gallons of water.
  • Citric acid 0.2% solution.
  • Acetic acid (vinegar) 2% solution. Mix one gallon of 4% vinegar in one gallon of water.
  • Virkon S (Antec International) at a 1:200 dilution.
  • Sodium Hypochlorite (household bleach) Mix three parts bleach to two parts water.

FMD spreads fast. Early detection and reporting are critical. The disease may have been present in the United Kingdom for three weeks before it was detected.

If you suspect a disease problem, report it immediately to your local veterinarian or regulatory animal health official. Don't move animals that may be affected. If you suspect a problem, stop all visitors from entering your farm. Report suspicious cases immediately by calling the USDA's Veterinary Services at 512-916-5552. Additional information may be obtained from the USDA's Public Information Office at 301-734-8073.


Carla Everett of Austin, Texas, is with the Texas Animal Health Commission, which was deluged with calls for information regarding foot-and-mouth disease during the latest European outbreak. A world map depicting affected areas is available by calling toll-free 800-550-8242 extension 710, or by visiting the Commission's website at This article appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of Rural Heritage. Since then foot-and-mouth disease has been winding down in Europe, reducing the threat that it might spread to North America.

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26 October 2011 last revision