Foot-and-mouth disease burst into public consciousness in late winter 2001 with an outbreak in the United Kingdom that spread onto the continent of Europe. But foot-and-mouth disease is an old disease that has frightened farmers since the 1500s. While the epidemic has placed these European nations in the news, foot-and-mouth disease also exists in many other parts of the world. It has not been found in the United States since 1929.
This highly contagious viral disease does not strike humans, but we can transmit it to animals. We can carry the virus in our nasal passages, on our shoes and clothing, even on personal items like cell phones.
It infects cattle, sheep, swine, and other cloven-hoofed animals. It causes blisters, fever, and appetite loss. Foot-and-mouth disease kills young animals, causes pregnant animals to abort, and drastically cuts milk and meat production. Weight and milk production drop dramatically, and animals that recover often remain debilitated. Even one case of foot-and-mouth disease in a nation is enough for other countries to close their borders to animals or animal products from the infected nation.
Because it is so contagious, infected or exposed herds or flocks are destroyed and the carcasses burned. The cost of an outbreak can run into billions of dollars for governments, besides the costs to farmers and rural businesses that suffer economic loss.
The virus that causes foot-and-mouth disease is the most infectious agent known to veterinary or human medicine. There is no relationship between foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly called mad cow disease.
What causes foot-and-mouth disease, how it spreads, prevention and control and more.
Advice to Farmers
Biosecurity measures for farmers to prevent introduction of foot-and-mouth disease and other diseases.
Advice for Visitors to Farms
How visitors to farms can reduce the chance of spreading foot-and-mouth disease.