A world map depicting affected areas is available by e-mailing me
at email@example.com or calling me at 1-800-550-8242, ext. 710.
Texas Animal Health Commission
Box l2966 *Austin, Texas 78711 *(800) 550-8242* FAX (512) 719-0719
Linda Logan, DVM, PhD* Executive Director
For info, contact Carla Everett, information officer, at 1-800-550-8242,
ext. 710, or firstname.lastname@example.org
For Immediate Release--
Foot-and-Mouth Disease Marches Westward
Animal Health Officials Fear Spread of Virus
Animal health officials in Texas are watching with concern the relentless
westward march of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), the most recent outbreak of
which was confirmed in late February at several sites in England, where
livestock operations already have been financially ravaged by the
brain-wasting disease, BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and outbreaks
of the viral infection, hog cholera.
Additional cases of FMD have been detected among cattle, sheep and swine in
Great Britain (encompassing England, Wales and Scotland). In addition to
the loss of thousands of animals, British farmers may lose as much as $73
million just from the week-long ban (which could be extended) on the
transport and marketing of livestock susceptible to the disease.
FMD, which has not been seen in the U.S. since l929, is caused by a highly
infectious virus that can cause death or disabling blisters and sores in
and around the mouth, muzzle, teats and feet of livestock with cloven or
"split" hooves. Cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and deer are highly
susceptible, and can exhibit clinical disease signs after an incubation
period of only three to eight days. To stop the spread of infection,
affected or exposed animals must be slaughtered, then burned or buried.
Premises and equipment must be disinfected to prevent disease spread.
"Foot and mouth virus poses special challenges, requiring proper
disinfection and biosecurity protocols. People who have worked around or
been near infected animals can inadvertently carry and spread the virus
via their equipment, cars, clothing, shoes, or even for a short time in
their lungs or pharynx (throat)," said Linda Logan, Texas' state
veterinarian and head of the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), the
state's livestock health regulatory agency. She pointed out that studies
indicate the virus can drift up to 40 miles on the wind, another hurdle to
confining an FMD outbreak to a
defined geographic area.
"FMD is probably the most economically damaging livestock disease," The
disease is currently affecting four of the world's seven continents: Asia,
Africa, South America and Europe, leaving only North America, Australia
and Antarctica free of the disease.
"An outbreak costs a country millions of dollars to fight, and thousands of
animals can be lost. Additionally, livestock markets must be closed to
prevent spread of infection, dairies may not be able to operate, and
transportation of livestock must cease. Furthermore, there's the cost of
depopulating and disposing of affected or exposed animals and vaccinating
'clean animals' to create a disease-free 'buffer zone,'" said Dr. Logan, a
specialist in tick-borne and foreign animal diseases. She also serves on a
national team reviewing how best to safeguard U.S. livestock from foreign
diseases and pests.
Dr. Logan urged livestock producers in Texas to be step up their
surveillance and to take precautions to protect herds from possible
contamination. "If you've traveled internationally, don't risk carrying
disease home to your herd. Disinfect your boots before working with your
livestock. Producers who feed wastefood to swine should be particularly
careful to ensure that all scraps are well cooked," she said. She also
suggested that producers limit vehicle traffic and visitors onto their
premise, and keep new animals isolated for several days prior to adding
them to the existing herd.
"If your livestock become lame or develop blisters or sores, call us at
1-800-550-8242. Our emergency response within the first 24 hours after the
first signs of disease will affect our outcome over the next six months,"
Dr. Logan said. The TAHC and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Veterinary
Services in Texas operate the toll-free number 24 hours a day for emergency
While FMD vaccine is available, Dr. Logan said it is used only in
emergencies, to create a "disease-free" buffer zone around an infected
area. Because vaccinated animals will test positive, they cannot be
shipped internationally and protocols require the animals to be destroyed
as soon as the disease is eradicated.
"Most importantly, FMD outbreaks result in trade embargoes imposed by other
countries," said Dr. Logan.
"South Korea, for instance, had been free of FMD since l934, but was
struck by the virus in late March 2000," she reported. "Producers in that
country intended to export $400 million worth of pork in 2000, but Japan
and its other trading partners immediately shut their doors to South Korean
exported animals and products. It can take years to be declared
disease-free and reestablish international marketing opportunities."
"Consider the damage to our economy, if we were to have the disease
introduced into the U.S. and exports of live animals and meat were
prohibited. Last year, the U.S. shipped out more than $4.2 billion worth
of these commodities. Texas ranked third among all states, shipping out
more than $736 million in animals and meat products," she said.
"For years, we worried about domestic regulatory diseases that are 'tame'
compared to the devastation of foreign animal diseases," said Dr. Logan.
"A global economy brings with it global risks, and we must be prepared for
the inevitable threats posed by international trade and travel."
"I am particularly concerned when cases of FMD occur close to a highly
populated area--or near a major international airport," said Dr. Max Coats,
who heads up the TAHC's animal health programs and field operations.
"Because of the virus' ability to ride the wind, it's possible that
ranching or farming equipment being exported by affected countries could be
contaminated, It may sound far-fetched, but with a disease of this impact,
we're always concerned about potential scenarios. Within 24 hours, an
animal, animal product, person or piece of equipment can be transported
nearly anywhere in the world. There's always a chance that a virus, pest
or dangerous bacteria will be hitching the ride, too."
"Then there are the items travelers like to tote on long flights, such as
sandwiches, delicacies or other food items that could be contaminated by
the virus," he said. Although direct flights from countries affected by
FMD are checked carefully, Dr. Coats said there's always a risk that
contaminated items could be smuggled or inadvertently brought into the
country by the millions of visitors and returning U.S. citizens who travel
internationally. Around 4.5 million British residents, for example, came
to the U.S. on direct flights in l999.
During the past year, more than a dozen countries have been plagued by
outbreaks of FMD, and the virus continues to migrate westward, noted Dr.
Logan. In early March 2000, Japan reported its first cases since l908, and
Japanese authorities laid blame on imported straw contaminated with the
"Within two weeks of the initial case, Japanese livestock authorities
checked more than 25,000 dairies, nearly 27,000 beef cattle farms and
almost 3,700 pig farms to determine if there was additional infection,"
said Dr. Logan. "If this scenario occurred in Texas, the TAHC field staff
would be unable to handle this enormous task alone, and we would have to
summon help from private veterinary practitioners, our partners within the
state's emergency management system, and our federal counterparts in the
USDA." (Of the 215 TAHC'ers about 100 are livestock inspectors and around
20 are veterinarians.)
"Swine are highly efficient and effective hosts for FMD," said Dr. Coats.
"And, with more than two million wild or feral swine in Texas, our
challenge would be nearly insurmountable if the disease became established
in this free-ranging population."
By Valentine's Day 2000, reports indicated that more than 500 animals had
died from the disease in eastern Mongolia, a large country bordered on the
south and east by China (also affected) and by Russia to the north. A
year later, FMD outbreaks continue in Mongolia, where winter blizzards also
wiped out more than 1.5 million animals.
By Easter last year, Russia reported cases among swine herds in its eastern
regions, and in late spring, infection was detected at a pig farm in
Kazakhstan, which shares borders with China and Russia. In August,
infection drifted southward into the small country of Tajikstan where
cases among cattle and sheep herds were reported.
Two free-grazing cattle herds in northeastern Greece, near the Turkish
border, were struck by the disease in July 2000, and surrounding cattle,
goat and swine herds were destroyed. In the fall, Turkish governmental
authorities requested more than $43 million in international aid to curtail
livestock smuggling in its eastern and southeastern regions and stop the
introduction of FMD and its potential spread into Europe.
South American countries were hit by infection in late summer 2000, said
Dr. Coats. Paraguay was struck first in early August, followed by outbreaks
in Uruguay and Colombia. Argentinean officials blamed their country's
outbreak on cattle smuggled from Paraguay. An Argentinean newspaper
reported that as many as 20,000 head were illegally smuggled in from
When a Brazilian dairy was hit by the disease, the Brazil's minister of
agriculture reported that he suspected bioterrorism, as the virus was of a
different strain than the one detected in Paraguay and Argentina. (FMD
virus has as many as seven types and 70 differing strains.)
"Argentina is the world's fourth-largest cattle-production country, and
producers had planned to expand their exports by $5 billion in 2000.
Brazil is the world's largest exporter of beef. Both countries lost their
marketing opportunities when FMD hit the countries," said Dr. Coats.
"When infection spread to Uruguay, the military shut down all human and
animal movement and dropped food into the restricted area from
helicopters," said Dr. Logan, who visited the country last fall. "Animals
in the affected area were euthanized and buried within 24 hours, which
stopped the spread of disease. Uruguayan officials and producers had
prepared for such an outbreak ahead of time by setting up funds to pay
producers for their livestock losses."
FMD also wreaked havoc in South Africa in summer 2000, when
viral-contaminated wastefood was off-loaded from a foreign vessel and fed
to swine. "This situation mirrored the scenario for the tabletop emergency
disease exercise in November, conducted cooperatively by the U.S., Canada
and Mexico," said Dr. Coats. "In the simulated outbreak, a South Texas
producer collected contaminated wastefood from a foreign ship and fed it to
his pigs. Within two weeks, routine livestock marketing and movement could
have spread the disease across Texas and into several states and Canada.
We estimated it would have cost $50 million to eradicate the disease just
in Hidalgo County."
"We're monitoring the movement of FMD closely. Buffer zones and existing
prevention efforts seem to have failed, as one after another, countries are
hit by the disease," said Dr. Coats. "Foreign animal diseases, like FMD,
are the 'gift that keeps on giving,' as demonstrated by the 2001 resurgence
of infection in Taiwan, after the country lost nearly all of its swine
herds in l997 outbreaks."
"This most recent FMD outbreak affecting Great Britain was initially
detected by a veterinarian inspecting pigs at a slaughter plant in a town
northeast of London. Since then, cases have been disclosed throughout
Great Britain, which has about 157,000 livestock farms," commented Dr.
Coats. He said British authorities believe the virus may have been
introduced through the feeding of contaminated wastefood to swine. Sheep
on a nearby farm were exposed and may have spread infection to as many as
25,000 animals when they were hauled to three markets.
"Livestock shows in Great Britain have been cancelled, and animal parks and
zoos have been closed. Horse events also have been postponed, even equine
are not susceptible to the disease. Fears are that the virus could be
carried and spread either by the horses' hooves or by the vehicles used to
transport the animals," commented Dr. Coats. He said French authorities
are destroying more than 47,000 British sheep that were recently imported.
He pointed out that, in Germany, authorities are taking precautions,
destroying susceptible animals that were recently shipped in from Great
Britain. In the Netherlands, more than 4,300 susceptible livestock and
deer have been killed on farms that have links to Great Britain. Livestock
markets in the Netherlands also are being closed for a week, he said.
"Worldwide, nearly two-thirds of the FMD outbreaks are attributed to the
introduction and feeding of contaminated meat, meat products or garbage to
animals," said Dr. Logan. She said about a quarter of infection is spread
by airborne transmission, and about 10 percent is comprised of infected
livestock importations or contaminated objects and people."
"The FMD situation is a lot like watching a hurricane develop. We can't
pinpoint its next landfall, but we know its direction. We must be prepared
to take action immediately if the virus is introduced into the U.S.--or
Texas," said Dr. Logan.