November 2007
From the State Vet's Office

Foot and Mouth Disease Hits U.K.

by Dr. Tony Frazier

What a difference six years makes. The United Kingdom experienced a devastating outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in 2001. It not only devastated agriculture, but also tourism in Great Britain during the spring and summer of 2001. The outbreak saw 2,000 cases of FMD and the destruction of over 6 million animals. There were even about 80 farmers who committed suicide because of the loss of their farms as a result of the disease. So you can imagine how it must have felt to the U.K. farmers when back in early August, the reports came out there was a new outbreak of the disease that had previously ravaged agriculture.

On August 2, clinical signs consistent with FMD were reported on a farm in Normandy, Surrey. The next day the samples were confirmed to be positive for FMD. At that point, "lessons learned" from the 2001 outbreak kicked in. It was agreed one of the biggest problems with the 2001 outbreak was they did not move quickly enough early on. First, a protection zone was established around the first positive farm. On August 3, another herd, also located near Elstead, had one cow test positive for the virus. As a standard precaution, both herds were slaughtered on August 4. This also prompted another protection zone to be established. Finally, on August 7, another herd showing signs consistent with FMD was slaughtered because it was strongly suspected it would be positive. The next day it was confirmed the right decision was made. That herd was within one of the already established protection zones.

In addition to establishing the protection zones (1.9 mile radius) around the positive farms, they also established surveillance zones, which are a further 6.2 miles outside the protection zones. The protection zone is an area of strictest biosecurity and quarantine. The surveillance zone is a step up from the protection zone, with continued emphasis on quarantine, cleaning and disinfecting. Another wise precautionary step taken upon the confirmation of the virus was to place a nation-wide ban on movement of all susceptible livestock.

Response to the 2001 outbreak lacked the rapid decision and action to slaughter positive animals. Therefore, the virus continued to replicate in sick animals for several days until the decision was made to put down the infected animals.

On August 4, two days after the first clinical signs were reported, the strain of the virus was identified as one that was being used in a nearby laboratory, where research on the virus and vaccines were being made. The particular strain of the FMD virus was not only one the laboratory was working with, but had not been found in animals since a U.K. outbreak in 1967. Fortunately, if indeed the virus was one being used for vaccine, it would likely be less virulent than the field strain of the virus.

As this article is being written, the outbreak is apparently not over yet. On September 12, a new case was confirmed 30 miles from the original farm. On Saturday, September 29, animal health officials were slaughtering cattle from a farm where the eighth case was confirmed. The cases have tended to remain mostly in the restricted zones. By the time you read this, hopefully, the disease outbreak will be over; however, it is a very contagious and unpredictable disease.

Just as a brief reminder, here are a few facts about FMD. It is a highly contagious viral disease that only affects split-hooved animals — yes, that does include deer. It is characterized by fever, lameness and the formation of vesicles (blisters) on the lips, muzzle, nose, oral cavity, teats, and between the toes and around the coronary band. It is an extremely painful disease that causes animals to go off feed, become lame and experience a severe loss in milk production. The last outbreak we had in the United States was in 1929. We must continue to be vigilant about this and other foreign animal diseases. If you have questions about foot and mouth disease, please call this office or discuss them with your local veterinarian.