INFORMATION ON THE FMD
1. What Is Foot & Mouth Disease And What
What Is Foot & Mouth Disease And What Causes
Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD) is a disease affecting
cloven-hoofed animals – animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep, goats,
deer. It can also affect
other, similar animals that you might find in a zoo or a game
Symptoms vary in importance between
species, but in general, the animals develop a fever and may get blisters
in their mouths and on their feet (which is where the name comes from) as
well as on their teats. Most
adult animals recover from the disease. Nevertheless, this is a slow
process and they may suffer long-term health problems.
FMD is caused by a virus, a member of
the picorna virus family.
There are seven different types of the FMD virus, which vary
according to region. These
are the European types O, A and C;
the African types SAT1, SAT2 and SAT3; and the Asian type Asia1. These all have different
characteristics and require different vaccines.
FMD is highly
infectious. This means that
the virus spreads very rapidly, and actual contact between animals is not
necessary to carry it from one herd to another.
2. How Can You
Diagnose Foot & Mouth Disease?
The first diagnosis is usually made
visually, when someone sees the symptoms mentioned above (“Clinical
Symptoms”). Following this,
samples are taken from the animals and laboratory tests are carried
out. These either try to
isolate the virus, or grow it from the sample. Alternatively, the laboratory can
test a blood sample for antibodies (the body’s immune response – defence –
against a disease).
This last is the signal that the
disease is or has been present.
But it is also the body’s response to a vaccine. This means that when antibodies
are found they can be an indication that the disease has been present
or that the animal has been vaccinated. But “Marker Vaccines” can be used
to distinguish an infected animal from one that is vaccinated.
3. Why Is Foot
& Mouth Disease So “Dramatic”?
Foot & Mouth Disease causes
sickness in the animals. This
may lead to pain and suffering, massive inflammation of the feet, weight
loss, abortion and even death, particularly in young
This, of course, directly affects the animals, but also affects
the farmers due to economic losses caused by the reduced milk production
and stunted growth.
Furthermore, the animals may develop secondary diseases due to
Also very important is the fact that
FMD is highly infectious. This means that the virus spreads
very rapidly, and actual contact between animals is not necessary to carry
it from one herd to another.
As a result, the outbreak of FMD is
potentially disastrous and countries seek to avoid it. Thus, the most dramatic losses
from the disease are caused by trade restrictions. FMD-free countries may refuse
importation of animals and animal products from FMD-infected
4. Can Foot
& Mouth Disease Be Treated or Prevented?
There is no cure for FMD and, in time,
the animals mostly would recover, albeit with the associated long-term
health problems that result.
Treatment of the blisters can help the animal, but the problem is
that the virus still spreads.
As with most viral diseases, however,
FMD can very easily be prevented by vaccination. Routine vaccination not only
prevents the clinical disease, but also prevent it spreading by removing
the “chain reaction” from one herd to another. Thus, vaccination can also be used
to eradicate FMD.
5. Is It Safe
to Eat Products From Animals That Are Either Infected or
Foot & Mouth Disease poses no
danger to humans. Some
farmers who have a lot of contact with infected animals have reported some
symptoms, such as a skin rash, for example. This is, however, quite rare and
poses no danger to the health of the farmer.
People can safely eat the meat or drink
the milk from animals that have been infected by FMD. Equally, there is no risk from
animals that have been vaccinated against it.
6. Can Foot
& Mouth Disease Be Eradicated By Vaccination?
Yes. Vaccination not only prevents
animals catching clinical Foot & Mouth Disease but also hampers the
virus’ multiplication. This
means that the spread of the disease is also reduced. Universal or “blanket” vaccination
programmes may completely remove the Foot & Mouth Disease virus from a
region or country.
7. Why Do We
Have A Vaccination-Avoidance Policy For Foot & Mouth
Some countries have an officially
recognised “FMD-free” status.
These “FMD-free countries” banned the import of animals and animal
products from countries that do not have this status, to avoid importing
the disease. And, because
vaccination of animals can also mask the fact that the animals are
infected, as a precaution, “FMD-free countries” also do not import animals
or products from countries that vaccinate.
Therefore, other “FMD-free” countries,
including those of the European Union – acting as a single market –
installed a non-vaccination policy to avoid jeopardising their exports of
meat and milk.
8. Why is
“Stamping Out” Carried Out In A Foot & Mouth
A “stamping out” programme is the mass
culling (slaughter) of animals that might have been in contact with
Experience has shown that fast
slaughter and destruction of animals from nearby herds will stop the virus
spreading because the “chain” of hosts for the virus is
However, to be effective, additional
measures such as strictly enforced restrictions on animal movements are
also necessary. Furthermore,
such a programme also means the killing of many – possibly healthy –
9. Will A
“Marker Vaccine” Change The Foot & Mouth Disease
The development of a “marker vaccine”
and the new “marker test” are a completely new approach to controlling
Foot & Mouth Disease.
Modern FMD vaccines are different from the existing vaccines in
that they do not contain a certain, non-structural protein
(3ABC). This is eliminated
during the manufacture of the vaccine. Because the 3ABC is not present,
the animal’s immune system does not produce the antibodies against this
When animals are vaccinated with these
modern vaccines, they only form antibodies against the
structural proteins of the virus. The presence of one antibody or
another can be checked using a special test.
The result is that areas can be
vaccinated and, unlike before, authorities can still monitor the spread of
the virus in vaccinated areas.
The slaughter of large numbers of – possibly healthy – animals as a
preventative measure is no longer necessary.
Can Foot & Mouth Disease Be Eradicated?
Mass vaccination, controls on animal movements and – eventually – the systematic testing for the Non-Structural Protein 3ABC will bring eradication closer. However, this needs to be undertaken region by region and country by country. It also needs to be closely linked with controls on the movement of animals. If, in addition to these measures, imported animals and animal products could be checked for 3ABC-antigens or antibodies, world-wide eradication is possible.
This information has been prepared
For more information, please contact
Dr. Susanne Zänker
Or see our additional publication:
“Foot & Mouth Disease: Background