Fearing an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United States, the Agriculture Department has banned all meat from Europe. But though the disease is destructive to cloven-hoof animals and livestock, it poses no threat to common pets, including horses, or to people.
The risk of spreading the diease, however, has led to the cancellation of many events, including the Crufts Dog Show (Great Britain's largest dog show).
The organizers of the Crufts Dog Show, in a press release, note that they are taking this drastic step as a precaution. Other large events in Britain and the Republic of Ireland, which has reported outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, may be canceled as well, including Ireland's St. Patrick's Day festivals. The disease has spread to France, which puts the European continent at risk for the virulent disease.
Foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease) affects animals such as cattle, swine, sheep, goats, deer, reindeer and llamas. It does not, however, pose a risk to horses
, according to the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization.
The disease, first identified in 1897, causes blisters on the mucous membranes on the mouth and feet, as well as fever, loss of appetite and weight. As a result, an infected animal may suddenly become lame and salivate excessively. In dairy cattle, milk yield may drop suddenly.
Foot-and-mouth disease is one of the most contagious diseases in animals. A herd can spread the virus by breathing. Under the right conditions, the virus can become airborne and spread long-distances. The movement of animals is the most common method of transmission. Although pets and people are not at risk of infection, they can spread the virus. Contaminated equipment, products and vehicles can also spread the disease.
Infected animals usually have a 5% mortality rate, but particularly virulent strains have caused up to 50% mortality. Although progress has been made toward a vaccine, the cost to vaccinate all vulnerable animals is too high. In addition, vaccines offer only temporary protection; animals must be revaccinated at intervals. As a result, isolating and slaughtering infected animals are the most effective methods to combat the disease.
The disease has had periodic outbreaks throughout the world since it was first uncovered. The United States has had 9 recorded outbreaks, the most serious occurring in 1914. The last serious outbreak in the United States occurred in 1929. An outbreak in 1967-68 forced Great Britain to slaughter more than 470,000 animals.