National Wildlife Health Center

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Wildlife Health Bulletin #01-01

To: Natural Resource/Conservation Managers
From: Director, USGS National Wildlife Health Center (Bob McLean)
Title: Foot and Mouth Disease in Europe - Fact Sheet:

The ongoing pandemic of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) in Europe and other parts of the world is of great concern to the North American Agriculture Community. FMD may also pose a significant threat to North American wildlife. This Alert is intended to provide natural resource and wildlife conservation managers information about the disease, web based resources about FMD and information about the potential risk to wildlife.

Background: FMD is a highly infectious, persistent and difficult to control disease of cattle, domestic sheep and swine. It also affects other cloven-hoofed mammals including wild sheep, goats, deer and pigs. Should an outbreak occur anywhere in the United States, routine livestock movements could rapidly spread the disease to all sections of the country making early detection, combined with immediate eradication of affected animals, crucial for controlling the disease. Left unchecked, the economic impact of FMD could reach billions of dollars in the first year. Deer and other wildlife populations would likely become infected and would be a source for re-infection of livestock. FMD is not known to cause illness in humans. The virus does not infect horses, mules, and burros.

European Update: On February 19, 2001, the United Kingdom Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) confirmed that 27 pigs found on a farm near Brentwood, Essex, had FMD. The infected pigs are believed to have arrived at the farm on February 16 from farms in Buckinghamshire and the Isle of Wight. As of April 1, Great Britain had confirmed a total of 909 outbreaks of FMD resulting in the slaughter of 764,319 domestic animals. Northern Ireland, Scotland, France and the Netherlands have also confirmed cases of FMD.

World Distribution: Various types of FMD virus have been identified in Africa, South America, Asia, and some parts of Europe. The disease has also recently been reported in Argentina and Brazil. North America, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, Chile are considered free of FMD.

USGS Activities: US Geological Survey (USGS) scientists are concerned about the potential threat that FMD may pose to North American wildlife, particularly species such as deer, bison, moose, antelope, pigs, sheep and elk. USGS Wildlife Disease Specialists at the National Wildlife Health Center are monitoring the outbreak in Western Europe and South America and gathering information from numerous sources. The information is being used to develop a contingency plan for informing Department of Interior (DOI), state, local and other federal land management and conservation agencies about the risk the disease poses to wildlife. The plan will also lay out recommended actions at various levels that USGS can take to prepare for the possible introduction of the disease into North America and its emergence in North American wildlife.

USDA is Lead Agency in the USA: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is legislated to monitor, regulate, and control foreign animal diseases that threaten domestic animals. In the case of FMD, all work with the live virus is mandated to be conducted on Plum Island (NY) at USDA's Biological Safety Level 3 containment laboratory.
In order to protect U.S. livestock from the introduction of FMD, the USDA implemented an interim rule prohibiting or restricting the importation into the United States of live swine and ruminants and any meat (chilled or frozen) or associated products from Great Britain or Northern Ireland. Ports of entry have been notified to enhance surveillance of travelers coming from Europe, particularly the United Kingdom (UK), because this area is now considered to be at high risk for FMD.

All international travelers must state on their Customs declaration form whether or not they have been on a farm or in contact with livestock and if they are bringing back any meat or dairy products from their travels. Any soiled footwear must be disinfected with detergent and bleach. In addition, soiled clothing must be washed and disinfected prior to returning to the United States. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) officials will inspect the baggage of all travelers who indicate they have been on a farm or in contact with livestock. Any ruminant or swine products (cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and other cloven-hoofed animals included), with the exception of hard cheeses and canned products with a shelf life, will be confiscated. The USDA has also issued a temporary ban on the importation of all swine and ruminants, meat (chilled or frozen) and other associated products from Argentina. APHIS has established a toll-free telephone number that cooperators can call to obtain information on FMD and APHIS response efforts (1-800-601-9327).

Wildlife Involvement/Risk: While foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is primarily an economically devastating disease of domestic livestock, experimental studies have clearly demonstrated the FMD is a threat to wildlife. In countries where FMD has become established, wild ungulates can harbor the virus despite vaccination and control efforts in livestock. Recent studies have shown that wildlife and domestic animals share the capacity to spread the disease to each other. Because the virus is so persistent and highly infectious, it has been found in a wide range of animals. Research has also demonstrated that some species of wild ungulates become infected and shed virus without showing any signs of the disease, thus acting as carriers of FMD. The USDA has demonstrated that white-tailed deer are susceptible to the same virus strain currently affecting domestic animals overseas. The same studies also showed that infected deer could shed virus up to 4 weeks after inoculation, and pass the infection to other deer and cattle. Likewise, infected cattle are able to pass the virus to deer.

The virus may also be transmitted mechanically by animals such as rodents and birds. While these animals do not become infected with the virus, experimental studies have also shown that the virus can survive for a short time on their bodies (up to 91 hours on the feathers of live birds). Experimental studies also demonstrated that the virus could pass unaltered through bird digestive systems. These findings suggest that these animals may facilitate the spread of virus for a short time and distance in the vicinity of an outbreak.

If FMD arrives in the United States, it will most likely be found first in domestic animals. Because FMD is highly contagious among cloven-hoofed animals, populations of cervids (deer, moose, elk), bison, antelope, peccary and feral pigs, would likely be targets for eradication in the vicinity of FMD outbreaks. During a 1922 outbreak of FMD domestic cattle grazing on U.S. Forest Service lands in California were suspected of spreading the disease to local deer populations. Over 22,000 deer were killed because of concern that they might serve as a reservoir of the disease.

How FMD is Spread: Domestic animals, wildlife, people, or materials that bring the virus into physical contact with susceptible animals can spread FMD. This can occur when susceptible animals drink from a common source of contaminated water, when animals carrying the virus are introduced into susceptible herds, when susceptible animals are exposed to materials such as hay or other feedstuffs contaminated with the virus, when people wearing contaminated clothes or footwear or using contaminated equipment (including vehicles) pass the virus to susceptible animals, and when raw or improperly cooked garbage containing infected meat or animal products are fed to susceptible animals. One study found that the virus might be able to be spread up to 10Km by aerial transmission.

Disease Etiology: FMD is caused by a virus in the family Picornaviridae, genus Aphthovirus. There are at least seven separate types of the virus, with Type O being the most important. The European outbreak is type O FMD. The virus survives in the lymph nodes and bone marrow of infected animals and can persist in contaminated fodder and the environment (soil, water, leaf litter) for up to one month, depending on environmental conditions. Hot temperatures, direct sunlight, and arid conditions, are unfavorable to the virus. The disease is characterized by fever and blister-like lesions followed by erosions on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats, and between the hooves. Affected animals recover, but the disease leaves them debilitated and causes severe losses in the production of meat and milk.

FMD may be confused with several diseases that appear similar, such as vesicular stomatitis, bluetongue, bovine viral diarrhea, foot rot in cattle, vesicular exanthema of swine, and swine vesicular disease. Because of the ease of mis-identification of the disease based on physical appearance alone, laboratory conformation is required.

For web based information connect to:
Great Britain Agriculture Ministry

Office International des Epizooties
FMD in Pigs
Promed, a listserv with discussion on emerging diseases
Guardian Unlimited Newspapers (England)
APHIS Emergency Operations Center Telephone: (800) 601-9327 e-mail:

For additional information please contact Dr. Scott Wright, USGS National Wildlife Health Center - Disease Investigations Branch Chief, at 608-270-2460.or Paul Slota, USGS National Wildlife Health Center - Support Services Branch Chief at 608-270-2420.


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