Frequently asked questions about Foot and Mouth Disease

What is Foot and Mouth Disease?

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is a highly infectious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals in which fever is followed by the development of vesicles or blisters – chiefly in the mouth or on the feet. There are 7 main types of virus, which produce similar symptoms and which can only be differentiated in the laboratory.

Which animals are susceptible?

Cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats are susceptible as well as some wild animals such as rats, deer and zoo animals including elephants.

What are the symptoms?

Vesicles (blisters) in the mouth or on the feet and other symptoms which vary somewhat but may be:

  • Cattle – Fever, dullness, off feed, shivering, reduced milk yield and sore teats in milking stock, slavering, tenderness of feet or lameness.
  • Sheep & Goats – Fever, lameness, stiff legged walk, off colour, tendency to lie down.
  • Pigs – Fever, lameness, dullness, off feed.

How is it spread?

FMD is a highly infectious disease that can spread by direct or indirect contact with infected animals. Infected animals begin by excreting the virus a few days before signs of the disease develop. Pigs in particular produce large numbers of virus particles. Airborne spread of the disease takes place readily. The prevailing meteorological conditions and local topography determine the distance that the disease can travel and this may be considerable. The disease is also spread mechanically by the movement of animals, persons, vehicles and other things, which have been contaminated by the virus. Meat from the carcass of animals infected with FMD at the time of slaughter can transmit the virus. Outbreaks of the disease have been linked with the importation of infected meat and meat products.

What are the effects of FMD?

The disease is rarely fatal to the animals affected, except in the case of the very young which may die without showing any symptoms. All affected animals lose condition and secondary bacterial infections may prolong convalescence. The most serious effects of the disease, however, are seen in dairy cattle. Loss of milk yield, abortion, sterility, chronic mastitis, and chronic lameness are commonplace. The most serious impact of FMD is that countries that have it are not allowed to export live animals or fresh or frozen meat products.

Can FMD be cured?

There is no cure. It usually runs its course in 2 or 3 weeks after which the great majority of animals recover naturally. The justification of slaughter policy is that widespread disease throughout the country would be economically disastrous due to the effects noted above.

What kinds of virus are there?

There are 7 main types: O, A, C, SAT.1, SAT.2, SAT.3, and Asia 1. Within each type there are many sub-types, e.g. O1 and A22. The average incubation period is 3-8 days but it can be shorter or may extend to 14 days or longer. It has been confirmed that the virus responsible for the present outbreak in the UK is the highly virulent pan-Asiatic O type. When animals recover from infection by one type of virus they have little or no protection against attacks by any one of the others.

Which countries have recently had FMD?

While the UK outbreak is garnering a great deal of media attention, FMD is endemic in parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America, with sporadic outbreaks in disease-free areas, so precautions should be taken whenever travelling overseas to avoid bringing the disease back to Canada. Countries affected by FMD in the past twelve months include Butan, Brazil, Columbia, Egypt, Georgia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kuwait, Malawi, Malaysia, Mongolia, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, Taipei, Tajikstan, Uruguay and Zambia. The last major outbreak of the disease in the EU was in Greece last year.

How is the virus destroyed?

It can be destroyed by heat, low humidity, or 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 people contract the disease?

It is very rare and only contracted through direct exposure to an infected animal. The disease has no implications for the human food chain. The general effects of the disease if contracted by a human are similar to influenza with some blisters. It is a mild short lived, self-limiting disease. A similarly-named human condition, called Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, is unrelated.

When was Canada’s last outbreak?

Canada’s last outbreak of FMD occurred in 1952. It is believed to have been brought into the country by a European post-war immigrant either on clothing or in a sausage.

Why not vaccinate livestock against it?

Vaccination is not an option for several reasons. Because blood tests of animals cannot differentiate between animals that have been vaccinated against the disease and those that have been exposed to it, countries that undertake vaccination programs cannot export meat or livestock. Initiating a vaccination program would have the same disastrous effect as an actual outbreak of the disease- Canada would lose the right to export meat and livestock. In addition, there are several strains of the virus and it is not feasible to vaccinate against all the different strains. The vaccine against FMD is only used in countries that have had an outbreak as part of their eradication program and in order to prevent the further spread of the disease.

Should we close the borders to people from countries with FMD?

This is not a practical option. It would require stopping travel not only to and from Europe, but also to and from all the other countries where FMD exists, including India, Taiwan, China, Russia, Brazil, etc. This would not only impact Canada’s tourism industry, it would also risk other countries banning imports of Canadian goods and services.

How do I increase bio-security on my farm?

The FMD virus can be spread by people, animals or other objects such as clothing, vehicles, equipment, feed or water. It can also spread through the air.

If you have visitors:

  • Prevent any visitors from having contact with livestock, equipment, feed or water.
  • Ensure visitors footwear is thoroughly clean and disinfected.

If international visitors come to your farm:

  • Prevent visits by anyone who, in the last 14 days, has visited any country with a recent outbreak of FMD. People can carry the virus on clothes, on shoes or in their noses.
  • Have visitors wash and disinfect all personal effects and objects they bring with them. Dry cleaning of clothes is recommended.
  • Ensure visitors footwear is thoroughly clean and disinfected.
  • Use Virkon® to disinfect items after they are cleaned. Make a 2% solution of Virkon® by mixing 20 grams of Virkon® powder per litre of water. Contact time is ten minutes.
  • You can also use a solution of 50:50 of regular white vinegar and water
  • The water in the footbaths should be changed regularly but will depend on the traffic flow in and out of your barn. The solutions mentioned above should be effective for up to 2 to 7 days

If you travel:

  • Do not visit farms in any country that have had a recent outbreak of FMD.
  • Do not bring back any meat, dairy products or animal products, including hides or skins from any country.
  • Follow all the precautions and routines that Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and CFIA have set at airports and other entry points to Canada.
  • When returning home, follow the same precautions as international visitors coming to your farm.

If you suspect the disease in your herd:

  • Call your veterinarian if an animal shows signs or symptoms that are similar to foot-and-mouth disease.
  • Isolate the sick animal and call CFIA. The toll free number for CFIA is 1-877-227-0677.
  • Avoid contact with other farmers. Ensure everyone on the farm who has had contact with the sick animal also avoids contact with other producers.
  • Do not allow people, vehicles or equipment to enter or leave your property until a CFIA veterinarian has checked the situation.

What is the government doing about FMD disease?

Canada has been free of foot-and-mouth disease since 1952. The federal government is working to prevent the disease from entering the country.

  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has enhanced import controls animals, meat, dairy products and other animal products.
  • CFIA the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency have increased surveillance of passengers and baggage on international flights. This has resulted in increased secondary inspections and detector dog activity at airports.
  • Travelers coming into Canada on flights from UK and Europe must now walk through disinfectant footbaths.

For more information about FMD you can contact:

CFIA at 1-877-227-0677  OR  website: www.inspection.gc.ca
OMAFRA at 1-877-424-1300
OMAFRA – Foot and Mouth Disease Website