What is it?
Foot-and-mouth is a severe, highly contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hooved animals, including cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and deer. The disease is characterized in animals by fever and blister-like lesions on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats, and between the claws. The virus can kill young animals as it causes inflammation of the heart muscle walls although many animals survive. But the disease leaves them debilitated, causing severe losses in the production of meat and milk. There is no effective treatment for the disease.
Because foot-and-mouth can spread widely and rapidly and because it has grave economic as well as physical consequences, it is one of the animal diseases that livestock owners dread most.
Does it affect people?
People can be infected through skin wounds or through inhalation while handling diseased stock, the virus in the laboratory, or by drinking infected milk, but not by eating meat from infected animals. The human infection is temporary and mild and is not considered a public health problem.
What causes it?
Foot-and-mouth is caused by a very resilient virus that can survive in carcasses, animal byproducts, water, straw and bedding, and pastures. It can be spread by animals, people, or materials that bring the virus into physical contact with susceptible animals.Among the ways it can spread is through people wearing contaminated clothes or footwear or using contaminated equipment, or when animals carrying the virus are introduced into susceptible herds.
How can it be stopped?
The disease is very difficult to control. When there is an outbreak, the area is quarantined, after which all infected or susceptible animals are slaughtered and their carcasses burned. Other contaminated objects are cleaned and disinfected, and the farm or other quarantined area is left uninhabited for several months.
However, the virus can spread quickly because the incubation period can last for up to 21 days, meaning farmers may unknowingly ship animals to markets, other regions or slaughterhouses before it is detected.
Where is it?
The disease is widespread and various forms have been identified in Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe. North America, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Chile are considered virus free because governments have conducted effective programs to prevent its introduction or to eradicate it.
The last outbreak was reported in the United States in 1929, Canada in 1952 and Mexico in 1954.
World response: Argentina
The world's fourth-largest beef-producing nation on March 13 confirmed at least one case of foot-and-mouth disease in a remote part of Buenos Aires province, a popular cattle grazing area in the Pampas region, some 250 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.
World response: Australia
The largest beef exporter in the world banned meat imports from Europe and Argentina and further tightened airport quarantine controls on travelers from those regions. Separately, they reported a sharp jump in demand for kangaroo meat in Europe as consumers avoided traditional meat sources because of fears about foot and mouth and mad cow disease.
World response: Britain
The current outbreak began in early February and was first detected by veterinarians on Feb. 19 among pigs near an abattoir in Brentwood, Essex County, northeast of London. The virus forced the British government to order the slaughter of thousands of animals as well as to impose draconian restrictions on activity in the countryside. Hiking was banned and many sporting events canceled, while farmers were unable to buy or sell livestock.
More than 200 cases have since been detected in Britain and one case in Northern Ireland. The worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth occurred in Britain in 1967, when the government was forced to cull around 500,000 sheep, pigs and cows.
World response: France
Despite a ban on the import of livestock from Britain and Northern Ireland, the government disclosed that the disease was detected March 13 in a herd of sheep on a farm in the northwestern Mayenne region. The confirmation sparked fears that the disease could spread across mainland Europe.
Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany said that France is "very exposed to risk" of more foot-and-mouth cases because of the 20,000 British sheep it imported in February that were scattered in 80 farms around the country.
World response: Republic of Ireland
The proximity of the outbreak in Northern Ireland has forced the Dublin government to clamp down on many activities in rural areas while boosting security along the border to prevent people or livestock from carrying the disease.
World response: United States/Canada
The USDA expanded a ban on imports of livestock and fresh meat to all 15 countries of the European Union on March 13. The ban, which also applies to unpasteurized dairy products, would have the biggest impact on imports of pork from the Netherlands and Denmark. Imports of beef from the European Union already were banned because of mad cow disease.
The United States suspended all meat and animal imports from Britain on Feb. 21 and ordered stepped-up checks of travelers arriving from the United Kingdom. Airline passengers who have visited the British countryside are required to have their shoes disinfected if they appear soiled and these restrictions have not been extended to visitors from all EU countries.
Canada took the same restrictive measures adopted by the United States after foot-and-mouth was discovered in France and Argentina on March 13.
World response: European Union
Although the disease has only been detected in two member states, all 15 countries have been affected by the blockade imposed by 90 trading partners, which the EU described as "excessive."
The EU has ban the trade of British or French livestock or animal products to other member states.