April 5, 2001 | By: Aimee D. Heald

The United States has not had a confirmed case of foot and mouth disease in 72 years and University of Kentucky College of Agriculture officials would like to see that trend continue. Recent outbreaks of FMD in 34 countries have prompted UK specialists to inform livestock owners about precautions they can take to guard their herds from the disease.

Patty Scharko, Extension veterinarian at UK's Livestock Disease and Diagnostic Lab said currently the only countries free of FMD are the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica. She said even though foot and mouth has not been found here, livestock producers and U.S. citizens need to exercise caution and work together to keep FMD from U.S. animals.

"Really we just need to limit the amount of visitors coming on our farms, including trucks and other things that have been to areas where animals may have been exposed," Scharko said. "Visitors really should wear over-boots and have on protective clothing if they are going to get close to the animals."

Foot and mouth is a highly contagious disease that does not affect humans. It can cause chronic illness in cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, domestic and feral or wild swine, and captive and wild deer, elk, bison and llamas.

Infected animals may display lameness in conjunction with salivating and drooling. Lesions or blisters affect the mouth, tongue, muzzle, teats, mucous membranes and skin between the hooves. Most animals do recover, however the disease can dramatically reduce performance and production.

"We need to be very careful about feeding any products that come from other countries, especially meat [to livestock]," Scharko advised. "Seventy percent of the time, foot and mouth comes from meat, especially pigs. Let me stress that foot and mouth doesn't cause a problem in humans, but it does in animals that consume tainted meat."

Scharko said the FMD outbreaks in other countries are teaching the U.S. an important lesson in biosecurity on farms.

"Foot and mouth can last 28 hours in the respiratory tract, 10 days on clothing and 30 days in hair – it can persist in the environment without multiplying for up to a year," she said. "Right now on flights coming in from England, announcements are made mid-flight about the potential of spreading foot and mouth and they urge travelers not to go onto a U.S. farm for five days."

Scharko said the reaction and response to safety measures around the state and the U.S. has been positive.

"People are being very positive about trying to close down potential contact, such as canceling farm visits associated with international meetings where people attending may not know they have been exposed to foot and mouth," she said. "We are concerned about sheep goats, pigs, cattle.... and we are especially concerned with pigs because they tend to amplify this virus. They make it worse and of course the virus can be blown up to 40 miles away. We have to be careful of our neighbors and our own animals."

The US Dept. of Agriculture has established an emergency operations center to coordinate communications, answer technical questions and to provide consumer/traveler information about FMD and other related issues. Toll-free numbers include: Technical questions 1-800-601-9327; Consumer/Traveler Hotline: 1-866-SAFGUARD.


Patty Scharko 859-253-0571