The outbreak of F&M Disease in Western Europe during February 2001 was caused by a serotype O virus (now called the PanAsia strain) which emerged initially on the Indian subcontinent in 1990. It subsequently spread across the Middle East and reached Turkey in 1996. In 2001 it reached the UK and France. In the East it had spread to China and Taiwan by 1999, and by March 2000 it had reached Korea (free of F&M disease since 1934) and Japan (free of F&M disease since 1908), Russia and Mongolia. It has also spread to South Africa (2000 - the first outbreak of type O F&M disease). It reached the UK (free since 1984) in February 2001 and France in March 2001..
A new Type A strain of F&M disease has also been reported recently by the United Nations. It emerged in Iran in 1996 and spread to Turkey by 1998.
The F&M disease virus is extremely resistant in the environment making eradication and control difficult. The virus :
Infection with F&M virus is usually through eating contaminated food but aerosol spread has also been identified. In the UK the most common sources of infection gaining access to the country are reported to be :
Infected animals shed most virus when the vesicles rupture, and they rarely shed virus for more than 4 days afterwards, although the virus can persist on their coats, or in their environment.
A characteristic of this virus is that it undergoes a rapid mutation rate (1-8 nucleotides may change each replication cycle). This means that new strains may emerge at any time with different virulence and characteristics. Rather like Influenza in humans, this makes protection through vaccination a difficult challenge because adequate protection may not be provided against new strains.
Other animals , such as horses, dog and cats , can act as carriers of the virus by transporting it on their feet/hair. F&M disease may also be transmitted by ticks and the virus can pass through the gastrointestinal tract of birds that have eaten contaminated food.
The typical, initial signs of Foot-and-mouth disease are :
In cattle that survive the acute infection a whole range of possible complications can occur including:
In the UK tissue or blood samples submitted to the Institute for Animal Health's Pirbright Laboratory can yield a positive result within 4 hours though some samples take longer to isolate..
There are vaccines available against Foot-and-mouth disease, and in countries where containment is difficult or impossible it is used, but there are some limitations regarding its use notably that protection may not be given against emerging new strains of the virus. The PanAsia strain of virus is known to have caused disease in at least 3 Dairy Farms in Saudi Arabia despite regular vaccination and tight health controls.
Development of vaccines against new strains of the virus takes at least 4 months.
Long term problems
Because the virus can survive in the environment it is important to destroy all animal carcases, bedding and other in-contact materials by burning. It is usual practice to leave infected premises unstocked for at least 6 months.
As long as the movement of livestock across International Borders is allowed, and as long as the movement of meat from countries with endemic F&M disease virus infection is allowed, this disease will continue to represent a serious threat to agriculture.
Further up to date information about the Outbreak of F&M disease in the UK can be found at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food web site : www.maff.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/fmd/default.html
Updated October 2013