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Foot and Mouth disease

PUBLISHED: 10:54 05 November 2007 | UPDATED: 08:17 28 March 2014

Two-day old ruptured vesicles on the tongue, gums and lower lip of a steer

Two-day old ruptured vesicles on the tongue, gums and lower lip of a steer

SPECIAL REPORT: Foot and Mouth Disease. Country Smallholding looks at the effects of FMD, how the disease is spread and control measures advised by DEFRA.

Foot and mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed animals, in particular cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer. Other ruminants, including deer and some zoo animals, camelids (camels, llamas, alpacas, guanaco and vicuña) and elephants can also be affected. The infectious disease is not normally fatal to adult animals.


The disease causes fever, followed by the development of blisters (vesicles ) – chiefly in the mouth and on the feet. The disease is caused by a virus of which there are seven types, which all produce similar symptoms.


How is it spread?

The virus is present in great quantity in the fluid from the blisters, and it can also occur in saliva, milk and dung. Contamination of any objects with any of these discharges is a danger to other stock. Airborne spread of the disease can take place and under favourable weather conditions it may be spread considerable distances. The disease can be  spread by contaminated animals, people and vehicles.


How is the virus destroyed?

It can be destroyed by heat, sunlight, low humidity, or certain disinfectants. It may remain active for some time in a suitable medium such as the frozen carcase of an infected animal or on contaminated objects. Cold and darkness tend to keep it alive.


What are the effects of FMD?

The disease is rarely fatal, except in the case of very young animals, which may die without showing any symptoms.

The after-effects are serious. Affected animals lose condition and secondary bacterial infections may prolong convalescence. The most serious effects are seen in dairy cattle, with loss of milk yield. Chronic mastitis may develop and the value of a cow is reduced. Abortion, sterility and chronic lameness are commonplace and in some cases chronic heart disease occurs.


Can FMD be cured?

There is no cure. It usually runs its course in two or three weeks after which most animals recover naturally. Slaughter remains the basic control policy because widespread disease would cause significant welfare problems and be economically disastrous.

Control Measures 

It is important that high standards of biosecurity are maintained. Biosecurity guidance is available from Defra (http://www.defra.gov.uk animalh/diseases or call the helpline on 08459 33 55 77). Animal movements may be allowed to prevent welfare issues arising, but these will be assessed on a case by case basis. In such cases, a Defra licence must be sought. 

Vaccination

Defra have decided not to vaccinate at present as it is considered that the risk of the spread of infection out of Surrey is very low. Emergency vaccination is being kept under review. Under Defra’s contingency plan, it is committed to being ready to vaccinate within five days of confirmation of an FMD outbreak. It ordered 300,000 doses of vaccine of the relevant strain.

Source for above: www.defra.gov.uk

Alan Beat's View

Policies for the control of economically significant livestock diseases are shaped primarily by political and international trading considerations, rather than by science or animal welfare. The reality for smallholders is that the impact of foot and mouth disease on their livestock is relatively minor, whereas the impact of policies imposed for its control can be catastrophic.

The 2007 outbreak in Surrey clearly illustrates this. The farm designated as IP5 on September 16 was found to have 17 out of 22 cattle with healed lesions between two and three weeks old, and only antibodies remaining in their bloodstream. These cattle had been through the entire disease cycle, and fully recovered, without their owner or Defra vets noticing anything amiss. But once discovered, the entire herd was slaughtered, even though scientifically it presented no threat of onward spread.

Worse still, the smallholder may suffer the slaughter of uninfected animals if Defra considers them merely at risk of infection, as with the notorious ‘contiguous cull’ of the 2001 epidemic. In 2002 the law was changed to remove the right to refuse such slaughter, and instead imposed draconian penalties upon refusal, including forced entry, seizure of property and imprisonment.

Smallholders nationally are severely impacted by the movement restrictions that accompany any slaughter policy, with inevitable financial and welfare implications. Perhaps more damaging in the long term is the demand for everyday regulation, traceability and ‘biosecurity’ that now regiments the smallholding way of life.

Such policies seek to retain the UK’s coveted status of ‘freedom from FMD without vaccination’ with its perceived advantage for exports. In fact, we import tens of thousands of tonnes of vaccinated meat from South America every year.

Experience worldwide shows that ring vaccination around an outbreak prevents onward spread of disease. Within a short time, full immunity is achieved and movement restrictions can be lifted. Modern vaccines enable vaccinated livestock to be distinguished from infected animals by a simple test. Modern real-time PCR devices can test at the farm gate, operated by non-veterinary personnel, with results transmitted instantaneously via satellite.

Smallholders should be demanding to know why slaughter and movement bans dating from the 17th century have yet to be replaced with proven techniques of the 20th century, let alone the further scientific advances made during the early years of the 21st.

For further information or advice about FMD from Defra call their Helpline on 08459 33 55 77


PICTURE: Two-day old ruptured vesicles on the tongue, gums and lower lip of a steer

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