27 March 2009

10 facts on foot-and-mouth

What exactly is foot-and-mouth disease? How does it spread and is South Africa at risk?


What exactly is foot-and-mouth disease? How does it spread and is South Africa at risk?

Here are some interesting facts on the disease:

  • The virus is spread from one animal to another by means of saliva, mucus, milk, faeces, wool, hair, grass, straw, the wind, clothing, livestock equipment or vehicle tyres.
  • Humans rarely catch the disease and in the unlikely event they do, the symptoms are similar to a temporary bout of the flu and are short-lived, requiring no medical treatment. Humans cannot get the disease from eating meat.
  • Although the disease does not really affect humans, they can spread it by means of dirty shoes/clothing which have been in a contaminated area. This is why many countries now disinfect the footwear and clothing of travellers from FMD-affected countries.
  • FMD in animals drastically affects milk production in cattle and can also weaken the immune system so that they are prone to other diseases/infections. It is fatal mostly to young or weak animals.
  • FMD is the most infectious animal disease known and there is no cure for it. Unless it’s stopped quickly it can spread through an entire region, severely affecting a country's agricultural sector.
  • Vaccination is used in many countries to control the disease, but it is ineffective in stopping the spread of the disease. Many countries deal with an outbreak by slaughtering the animals at the site of infection.
  • Some of the symptoms of the disease include excessive salivating, shivering, reduced milk yield, sores and blisters on hooves, a raised temperature and sudden and severe lameness.
  • The 2001 outbreak of FMD in the UK was caused by the Type-O-pan-Asia strain of the disease and saw more than 2 000 cases reported.
  • The 2007 outbreak in the UK resulted in the slaughter of more than six million animals (mostly sheep). This almost halted British sheep, pork and beef exports.
  • FMD can also affect deer, goats, elephants, rats and hedgehogs.

However, Dr Gary Buhrmann, Chief State Veterinarian in the Boland region, said that South Africans have nothing to worry about in the immediate future with regard to FMD - we are considered an FMD-free zone.

He said, “We are an FMD-free area, except for some areas along the Kruger National Park border, in which the animals are being/have been vaccinated.”

He explained that the primary concern around FMD was more the fact that animals with the disease, as well as those vaccinated against it, cannot be exported.

“This is because if an animal is vaccinated against FMD, it has antibodies in its system which tests conducted at import/export stations cannot distinguish from the actual disease,” he said.

However, he reiterated the fact that South Africans have nothing to worry about as far as FMD is concerned.

(Sources:, and

(Amy Henderson,, Updated March 2009)

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