What IS foot & mouth disease? It is one of the most infectious diseases known and consists of a virus, which attacks two groups of animals – pigs and ruminants. The latter group includes cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and some other “foreign” breeds of animal such as buffalo and antelope. It does not affect birds, dogs, or horses, but the virus can be carried on the feet of any bird or animal, including humans, that come into contact with it.
The symptoms relate to the name the disease has been given – a blistering of the skin around the animal’s foot, particularly between the hooves and a similar blistering of the skin around the mouth and nose. These physical symptoms are usually accompanied by a fever. The virus has a 3-8 day incubation period.
A question now being asked is, “Can it affect humans? You may have read elsewhere that the answer is “No. However, this is not strictly true, albeit that the risk is very small. One such case, where the victim developed flu-like symptoms with blistering and subsequently ulcerating skin, was reported some 25 years ago. That person made a full recovery. The risk to humans would be greatest if the virus entered the human body via an exposed wound, handling infected stock without adequate protection, or drinking milk, which had not been pasteurized from an affected cow. However, it should be said from the start that this latter source is highly unlikely, because virtually all of today’s public milk supply is pasteurized and this process immediately kills the virus. The Food Standard Agency has made it very clear that eating the meat of an infected animal has no harmful effect on humans.
So, how does it spread? Well, it can be borne aloft on the wind and can easily travel more than 50 km overland, or 300 km over sea. It can also be transferred by direct contact between animals, [including humans], transferred via the feces of infected animals, transferred by people, vehicles, animals or birds that have passed over infected land and moved on elsewhere carrying the virus on their feet.
Preventative measure can be taken. Straw soaked in disinfectant, [e.g. Sodium Hydroxide], and spread thickly across all access routes onto an affected area does help to sterilize shoes, boots, vehicle tires and anything else that passes over it. The virus can be destroyed by strong and prolonged sunlight, low humidity, or extreme soil acidity or alkalinity. However, it can survive for long periods in freezing temperatures and can live in the body of an animal for up to two years. This is one of the reasons why cattle are destroyed and burned. The virus is completely destroyed by heat.