Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in livestock is currently in more than 100 countries, so it is not a matter of if it will occur again in the U.S., it is a matter of when it will occur, according to Paul Sundberg, vice president of science and technology at the National Pork Council.
The last outbreak of FMD in the U.S. occurred in 1929, but the next outbreak could occur at any moment and the U.S. must be prepared to act quickly, Sundberg said.
The disease which affects cloven-hoofed animals is “very difficult” to control because there are seven different serotypes and 60 subtypes of the FMD virus, he noted.
“All FMD viruses aren’t the same. We can’t use a common vaccine,” Sunberg said, adding the virus strains are constantly evolving and changing, so the vaccines the industry has developed aren’t always effective.
In addition, an FMD vaccine is not in high demand in the U.S. because if there is an outbreak, it is doubtful that enough vaccine could be made and sent out to producers soon enough, Sundberg said.
“Vaccines have a shelf life. They can’t be stockpiled,” he said.
But an Ames, Iowa company may have the answer to that.
Harrisvaccines, based in Ames, was recently awarded $1.114 million from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate to develop an RNA Particle (RP) vaccine to potentially protect the U.S. from FMD, according to a press release from the company. The company’s RP platform technology allows the vaccine to be manufactured without handling the infectious FMD virus because only a gene sequence from the virus is needed to prepare the vaccine.
Dr. Kurt Kamrud at Harrisvaccines said their “rapid response technology allows us to produce large amounts of vaccine quickly.”
In addition, at Plum Island, scientists have produced a molecular vaccine against one strain of FMD that does not use a live FMD virus for vaccine manufacture (live vaccines for FMD cannot be produced in the U.S.), USDA-APHIS reported. This type of vaccine could be made in the U.S., but it would have to be the right strain of FMD to be effective, Sundberg said. However, other vaccines against more strains are in the works, according to APHIS.
Animals, especially cattle, are very susceptible to FMD and it spreads fast in the herd, Sundberg said.
The incubation period is 2-14 days, and signs may not even show on the animal for two weeks, he explained. Some of the signs producers might see in their cows, sheep, pigs, goats or other cloven-hoofed animals include: loss of appetite, fever that lasts two to three days, blisters and erosions on the mouth, teats and the feet (between the hooves), weight loss, low conception rates, abortions, increased death rates especially in newborns, reduced milk production and lameness or sore feet.
When FMD virus strikes the herd, about one-fourth of the animals die or have to be euthanized, he said.
“But animals can recover and go to market,” Sundberg said.
Because there are active infections of FMD all over the world except in North America, international travel increases the risk to the U.S., he said. Not all travelers are aware of the restrictions of carrying food products that could be contaminated through ports of entry, and if U.S. Customs doesn’t find it, food can get across the border.
And animals are constantly being hauled on the roads, traveling all over the U.S. and increasing the likelihood that they could come in contact with a contagious disease like FMD.
“More than 600,000 pigs are on the move every day in the U.S.,” Sundberg said. “The likelihood that we would be able to find or stomp out FMD is small because there is too much risk, too much movement.”
With hogs, food waste with meat pieces can be legally fed to pigs in many states, and that becomes a major risk. For food waste to be used safely, it has to be heated to 100 degrees, and that doesn’t always happen.
“Many cruise ships feed waste to pigs, and then pigs can spread it to sheep or other animals,” Sundberg said.
An economic study has shown that an outbreak of FMD in the U.S. could devastate the livestock industry.
“Countries will switch to those without FMD to buy their meat from, shutting down exports. Prices will fall; meat packing plants will shut down; jobs will be lost,” Sundberg said. “Producers will lose their herds. This is going to cost a lot of money.”
USDA-APHIS has come out with a list of what might happen in an outbreak of FMD:
– Exports will drop.
– Federal jurisdiction over cattle, sheep and pigs will trump state jurisdiction.
– The correct information must be given out to producers and veterinarians; that is critical.
– Interstate movement of animals will
stop because FMD is highly contagious.
Because of that, several livestock groups are working with USDA-APHIS on how best to respond to the disease when it breaks out in the U.S. The groups have formed a website for producers and others about FMD located at FMDinfo.org, said Cindy Cunningham, assistant vice president of communications for the National Pork Board.
“We have more tools available today and lots of resources that we didn’t have before,” said Cunningham, adding the FMD site is constantly being updated and it is a collaboration from many different livestock groups.
“Over the past 11 years, we’ve formed good partnerships for a coordinated response. We have to know what each side is doing to protect animal health and minimize the spread of the disease.”
Cunningham said no matter what kind of animals or producers are involved, whether it is beef, pigs, sheep, “all (are) going to be affected by an FMD outbreak.”
They are also coordinating a message to bring to the public, that is essentially, “Your meat and milk is safe.” According to Cunningham, humans cannot get FMD by eating meat or pasteurized milk. Pasteurization effectively kills FMD.
But the goal of the group remains to “keep FMD out of this country.”