What is Foot and Mouth Disease?

board of animal health

Reportable Disease of the Month

Foot and Mouth Disease

What is it?

Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is an extremely contagious viral disease. It affects all cloven hoofed mammals like cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, and others. There are seven major types of the virus belonging to the Picornaviridae family. One of the most relevant risks of the disease is its ability to spread rapidly in livestock populations, which leads to increased morbidity, depopulation, and trade restrictions. The disease is regulated and tracked worldwide, and North America remains FMD free for the last six decades. It is endemic in areas of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

How is it transmitted?

Disease transmission is what makes FMD such a large concern for animal health officials and the livestock industry. The virus is shed via an infected animal’s excretions and secretions including their breath, milk, semen, saliva, urine and feces. The aerosolized virus can travel great distances and survive in the environment and on equipment for weeks and months. The virus is also found in uncooked meat and meat products, which can affect animals like pigs who are fed uncooked food waste.

What are the clinical signs?

The seven serotypes of the virus present slightly differently in each species and can range from mild signs to severe infection and mortality. A primary indicator in most species is the formation of vesicles (blisters) on the animal’s face or near its hooves. Because the vesicles rupture and are painful, they cause noticeable signs in animals like depression, lameness, and reluctance to stand. Vesicles within the mouth and on the tongue can also cause excessive drooling and some animals will stop eating and drinking. A decline in milk production and mortality in young or weak animals can also indicate a FMD infection.

How is it diagnosed?

The most common way to diagnose the disease is for a veterinarian to collect fluid samples from vesicles on a suspect animal. Those samples are then tested in a laboratory to confirm the disease. Samples are collected by trained government veterinarians (Foreign Animal Disease Diagnosticians) and tested at the USDA’s Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.

How is it treated?

There is no treatment for FMD. If a case is detected in the U.S. the herd will be quarantined and depopulated to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Is there a risk to people?

The disease is not considered a public health risk. However, caution should always be exercised around suspected cases to prevent transmission of the disease. A similarly named disease (hand, foot and mouth) in people is not related to FMD.

How can it be prevented?

Disease surveillance and documented animal movements are the primary ways to identify and subsequently prevent FMD. Animals cannot be imported from known endemic areas. Additionally, with all diseases, producers should have biosecurity practices in place on their property. Veterinarians should monitor for the clinical signs in a herd and immediately report any suspect cases to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

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