Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is an acute infectious disease caused by a virus of which there are 7 types, which produce similar symptoms and can only be differentiated in the laboratory.

Symptoms of Foot and Mouth disease

On introduction to a herd or flock the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus can spread very rapidly by direct and indirect transmission. Affected animals have a high temperature, which is followed by the development of blisters chiefly in the mouth and on the feet.

However, in some species (notably sheep and goats), the disease is frequently less severe or occurs as a sub-clinical infection. The disease is not usually fatal in adult animals, although many young animals may die. However, it causes severe pain and distress, especially in cattle; animals may be left permanently lame and the productivity of recovered animals may be reduced.

DAERA reminds Northern Ireland farmers and hauliers to maintain strong biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of exposure to, and spread of disease.

Anyone suspecting FMD must immediately inform their local Divisional Veterinary Office or their Private Veterinary Practice (PVP). For other FMD related queries please contact the DAERA Helpline 0300 200 7840.

The current situation

The Department of Agrictulture, Environment and Rural Affairs reminds Northern Ireland farmers and hauliers to maintain strong biosecurity measures to reduce the risk of exposure to, and spread of disease.

Anyone suspecting FMD must immediately inform their local Divisional Veterinary Office or their Private Veterinary Practice (PVP). For other FMD related queries please contact the DAERA Helpline 0300 200 7840

Clinical signs

Animals with Foot and Mouth Disease may show some of the following signs

Signs of Foot and Mouth in Cattle

  • slobbering and smacking lips
  • shivering
  • tender and sore feet
  • reduced milk yield
  • sores and blisters on feet
  • raised temperature

Images of infected cattle (DEFRA archives)

Signs of Foot and Mouth in Sheep

  • sudden, severe lameness
  • lies down frequently and is very unwilling to rise
  • when made to rise stands in a half-crouching position, with hind legs brought well forward, reluctant to move
  • blisters may be found on the hoof where the horn joins the skin which may extend all round the coronet and in the cleft of the foot. When they burst the horn is separated from the tissues underneath, and hair round the hoof may appear damp
  • blisters may be found on the dental pad and sometimes the tongue

Images of infected sheep (DEFRA archives)

Signs of Foot and Mouth in Pigs

  • sudden lameness
  • prefers to lie down
  • when made to move squeals loudly and hobbles painfully
  • blisters form on the upper edge of the hoof, where the skin and horn meet, and on the heels and in the cleft
  • may extend right round the top of the hoof with the result that the horn becomes separated
  • blisters may develop on the snout or on the tongue

Images of infected pigs (DEFRA archives)

Anyone suspecting FMD must immediately inform their local Divisional Veterinary Office or their Private Veterinary Practice (PVP). For other FMD related queries please contact the DAERA Helpline 0300 200 7840.

Preventing the introduction and spread of FMD

Good biosecurity should be practised at all times, not just during an outbreak. Taking the right measures in the early stages of an outbreak e.g. before we know disease is in the country, can help prevent or reduce its spread.

A summary of advice

  • keep everything clean – materials like mud or bedding on clothes, boots equipment or vehicles can carry the virus from farm to farm or between different groups of livestock on the farm
  • don’t wear work clothes to sales or shows. Wear clean protective clothing and footwear for use solely on your own farm
  • it is essential that you clean yourself, your vehicle and everything you carry thoroughly when you move between different groups of livestock on the farm
  • avoid visiting other farms unless absolutely necessary
  • do inspect animals regularly (at least daily) for signs of disease
  • keep different species of livestock separate where possible
  • avoid moving animals from one part of the farm to another if possible, particularly between out farms and conacre
  • when handling your animals, be aware that sheep do not always show obvious signs of the disease and you could inadvertently infect other animals
  • wash hands after contact with livestock
  • make sure you have approved disinfectant and cleaning material ready at your farm entrance, so that essential visitors can disinfect themselves before entering the premises and as they leave
  • prevent any non-essential visits to your farm

Your questions answered on FMD

Which animals are susceptible to FMD?

Among farm stock, cattle, sheep, pigs, and goats are susceptible, as are llamas and alpacas. Some wild animals such as hedgehogs, coypu, and any wild cloven-footed animals such as deer and zoo animals including elephants can also contract it.

How is it spread?

The virus is present in great quantity in the fluid from the blisters, and it can also occur in saliva, milk and dung and respired air. Contamination of any objects with any of these discharges is a danger to other stock. At the height of the disease, virus is present in the blood. 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 can take place and under favourable climatic conditions the disease may be spread considerable distances by this route. For example, circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that the outbreak on the Isle of Wight in 1981 resulted from the airborne spread of the virus from Brittany in northern France.

Animals pick up the virus either by direct contact with an infected animal or by contact with foodstuffs or other things which have been contaminated by such an animal, or by eating or coming into contact with some part of an infected carcase. In the past, outbreaks of the disease have been linked with the importation of infected meat and meat products.

The disease is spread mechanically by the movement of animals, persons, vehicles and other things which have been contaminated by the virus. Trucks, lorries, market places, and loading ramps – in or over which infected animals have travelled – are dangerous until disinfected. Roads may also become contaminated and virus may be picked up and carried on the wheels of passing vehicles.

The boots, clothing and hands of a stockman who has attended diseased animals can spread the disease and dogs, cats, poultry, wild game and vermin may also mechanically carry infection.

What are the effects of FMD?

The disease is rarely fatal, except in the case of very young animals, which may die without showing any symptoms. Exceptionally, a severe form of the disease may cause sudden deaths among older stock.

The after-effects of FMD are serious. 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 will certainly be experienced. Chronic mastitis may develop and the value of a cow is permanently reduced. Abortion, sterility and chronic lameness are commonplace and in some cases chronic heart disease occurs.

What happens when a suspect animal is found?

The owner of a suspected animal or carcase must by law, immediately report the fact to their local Divisional Veterinary Office. All herd owners should make themselves familiar with the symptoms, and call in a veterinary surgeon as early as possible.

Restrictions are imposed on the premises from the time of notification prohibiting any animal, person or thing entering or leaving the premises without permission, and a DAERA Veterinary Officer (VO) makes an investigation. If signs suggest FMD is present, sample material from the affected animal(s) would be sent for testing. The Chief Veterinary Officer will confirm the outbreak if the laboratory results confirm the presence of FMD virus.

What happens if disease is confirmed?

On confirmation of the disease a Protection Zone will be imposed with a minimum radius of 3km around the Infected Premises and a Surveillance Zone with a minimum radius of 10km.

Notices are posted at all entrances to the infected premises and the movement of people on and off the farm is controlled. An approved disinfectant must be used to disinfect footwear, clothing and vehicles before entering or leaving the premises. As soon as possible after confirmation of disease the infected animals are valued and slaughtered. Other susceptible animals are then valued and they too are slaughtered without delay.

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 will certainly be experienced. Chronic mastitis may develop and the value of a cow is permanently reduced. Abortion, sterility and chronic lameness are commonplace and in some cases chronic heart disease occurs.

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