Frequently Asked Questions About Foot-and-Mouth

Here are some frequently asked questions about foot-and-mouth disease. Some of the information was provided by Britain's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

What is foot-and-mouth disease?

Foot-and-mouth disease, also called hoof-and-mouth, is a viral disease. It is characterized by fever and the development of blisters mostly in the mouth or on the feet. It poses little or no risk to humans but can be fatal for cloven-hoofed animals, especially younger ones.

How does it spread?

It can be spread by direct or indirect contact with infected animals. Infected animals begin by excreting the virus a few days before there are any signs. It can also be spread through the air or through contaminated feed. Humans can spread the disease by carrying it on shoes and clothing. The disease is also spread by the movement of animals, persons, vehicles and objects that have been contaminated. Meat from carcasses of animals infected at the time of slaughter can also transmit the virus. In the past, outbreaks of the disease have been linked with the importation of infected meat and meat products.

Can people contact the disease?

People can catch the disease, but it's difficult. Generally, only people who come into continuous direct contact with infected animals, such as farmer and veterinarians, contract foot-and-mouth. In humans, it is a mild, short-lived, self-limiting disease. Britain's Food Standards Agency has advised that the disease has no implications for the human food chain. There is a human condition called hand, foot and mouth disease, but it is unrelated.

What animals are susceptible to the disease?

It usually affects cloven-hoofed animals like cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. Other animals that are also susceptible include hedgehogs, rats, deer and zoo animals including elephants.

How is the virus destroyed?

It can be destroyed by heat, low humidity, or certain disinfectants, but it may remain active for a varying time in a suitable medium such as the frozen or chilled carcass of an infected animal and on contaminated objects.

Can the disease be cured?

There is no cure. It usually runs its course in two or three weeks, after which the great majority of animals recover naturally. The justification of the slaughter policy is that widespread disease throughout the country would be economically disastrous.