How can I protect my animals against foot and mouth disease?



Although Foot (hoof) and Mouth Disease is still a foreign animal disease, producers in the United States should be aware of the disease and its symptoms and do what they can to prevent it from entering the United States.

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) affects all cloven-hooved animals, including cattle, sheep, swine, deer, elk and goats. It does not affect horses or humans. Symptoms of the disease include blisters on the lips, in the mouth and on the feet. Sloughing of the skin then occurs, and the mouth becomes so tender that animals cannot eat. It can also cause lesions on the feet, some so severe that the hooves actually slough off (especially in swine). This becomes so painful to the animal that euthanasia is required, even in countries where FMD occurs consistently.

Consider these tips to protect against FMD. The same principles of caution apply whether you own a producer operation or you are taking your animals to a county fair.

  • Control the access of people, animals and products to your animals and operation. The access of non-employees to animals can generally be controlled by fences, barriers and signs. Signs should instruct people not to enter unless authorized to do so, due to concerns for animal health.
  • Verbally screen those people coming into your operation. Since two thirds of all countries carry the FMD virus, it is wise to ask everyone who comes into your operation if they have been out of the United States in the past two weeks. If not, they do not pose a threat to your operation. If they have been traveling internationally, find out what countries they have visited and when. The current concern is anyone who has travelled to the United Kingdom within the past 14 days. Other areas of concern are South America, Asia and Africa, as well as Columbia, which has three out of the seven strains of the disease. These areas have low levels of FMD that are always present.
  • Do not handle livestock for five days after your return if you have travelled to a country with FMD. Be sure to shower, shampoo, use a disinfectant foot bath, wash all clothes and clean and disinfect shoes and boots. Preferably, shoes and boots used on a farm in another country should be left there and not brought home. Encourage anyone coming in contact with your animals who has travelled internationally to follow these procedures as well. The virus will not live on a person, their shoes or clothing for more than a few days. In spite of this, it is still wise to ask questions of anyone who is around your animals.
  • Strictly follow the guidelines of customs or other agents if you travel internationally. Do not bring animal products into the country that are prohibited. Foreign meat and cheese products pose a special threat. The risk occurs when parts of the products are thrown into the garbage and are then fed to animals or put in a place where birds have access to them.
  • Immediately begin a lock down program if there is ever an FMD outbreak in the United States. Do not let animals, people or products on your property or near your animals unless you are sure they are safe. Be sure they have gone through the disinfectant process mentioned above. Also be cautious of animal products, since they can pose as great a threat as a person or animal. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect an outbreak of FMD in your own animals. Your veterinarian will then notify the state and/or federal veterinarians.

There are other diseases that look very much like FMD, and after collecting tissue samples, the veterinarians can have a diagnosis within 24 hours for you. During that time, you would be asked to put up signs to block entry and keep all people and animals off your operation until you have clearance from state or federal veterinarians.

There is no reason to panic about the possibility of an FMD outbreak in the United States, but anyone involved with animals should be aware of the disease and its prevention.

Posted on 18 Jul 2006

Clell Bagley
Extension vetrinarian

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