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Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is an extremely contagious and severe viral disease. It can cause incredible losses in cloven-hoofed livestock and wildlife species, including cattle, pigs, wild boar, sheep, bison, elk, deer and llamas. Many affected animals recover, but the disease leaves them weakened and debilitated.
FMD is caused by an Aphthovirus. Seven strains of the disease (A, O, C, SAT1, SAT2, SAT3, and Asia1) are endemic in different countries worldwide. FMD causes fever and vesicles that rupture in the mouth and on the skin of the udder and feet. While adult animals rarely die from the disease, they stop eating and become lame and very ill.
Aside from causing obvious losses in livestock production, FMD is a trade issue and its occurrence in Alberta would result in immediate loss of export markets for livestock and livestock products. International trade markets would remain shut pending disease eradication, and clean-up would cost billions of dollars.
FMD is a provincially reportable disease for cattle and yaks, swine, including wild boars, farmed bison, sheep and goats and domestic cervids. It is also a federally reportable disease, requiring livestock owners and veterinarians to report any suspicion of the disease to CFIA authorities immediately. Quick action to confirm, contain and eradicate the disease is necessary to mitigate massive economic consequences to Alberta.
For more information on the disease, see: Foot and Mouth Disease fact sheet (CFIA).
How to report
If you suspect foot and mouth disease in your herd, call your veterinarian within 24 hours.
FMD is a provincially reportable disease under Alberta's Animal Health Act. It is also a reportable disease under the federal Health of Animals Act and all cases must be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
All suspected or confirmed cases must be reported to the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian (OCPV) within 24 hours:
Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Toll free: 310-0000 before the phone number (in Alberta)
After business hours: 1-800-524-0051
The incubation period for the FMD virus in susceptible animals can range from 2 to 8 days, but can last up to 21 days post infection. Infected animals can spread the virus 1 to 2 days prior to the onset of clinical signs, and for 7 to 10 days after the presentation of clinical signs.
According to the OIE: The severity of clinical signs will depend on the strain of virus, the exposure dose, the age and species of animal and the host immunity. Morbidity can reach 100% in susceptible populations. Mortality is generally low in adult animals (1 to 5%), but higher in young calves, lambs and piglets (20% or higher).
Llamas and alpacas may develop mild symptoms, but are resistant to the disease and will not pass it on to others of the same species.
Signs in cattle
The clinical signs of FMD are more severe in cattle than in sheep and goats. Signs in cattle include:
- sores, vesicles followed by ulcers and blisters on feet, nose, lips, mouth and udder
- excessive salivation with drooling and smacking of lips
- bulls can develop vesicles and blisters on scrotum
- tender and sore feet with vesicles and ulcers on the coronary band
- animals not willing to walk due to pain on their feet
- fever and off feed
- reduced milk yield secondary to mastitis
- overall loss of body condition and occasional abortions in affected cows
Signs in pigs
The clinical signs of FMD are more severe in intensively reared pigs than in sheep and goats. Look for the following signs in pigs:
- blisters may develop on the snout or tongue, on the upper edge of the hoof, where the skin and horn meet, on the heels and in the cleft
- sudden lameness
- pigs prefer to lay down, are reluctant to move and show signs of pain when walking
- off feed
It is important to remember that other swine diseases have similar lesions to FMD. Anyone who sees blisters in pigs must report the sighting to their veterinarian to pursue further testing for suspected FMD.
Signs in sheep
The disease can be difficult to recognize in sheep; sometimes as little as 5% of animals in infected flocks show any signs. Look for the following signs in sheep:
- sores and blisters on feet, nose, lips and in the mouth around the dental pad and on the tongue
- blisters may form where the hoof joins the skin; when these blisters burst, extensive ulcers may lead to separation of hoof from the tissues underneath
- sudden onset of lameness in multiple animals with varying degree of severity of lameness
- sudden death in lambs; in several recent confirmed outbreaks, the most obvious sign was apparently healthy lambs dropping dead
- listless and off feed
Where it’s found
The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) estimates that FMD circulates in 77% of the global livestock population. FMD is present in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as in a limited area of South America.
The last outbreak of FMD in Canada occurred in Saskatchewan in 1952 as a result of illegally imported contaminated meat. Since FMD was eradicated, Canada has been listed as free of FMD by the OIE.
How it spreads
In Canada, it is illegal to feed meat to pigs, including pet foods that contain animal by-products.
Foot and mouth disease is one of the most infectious viruses known. It spreads to healthy livestock primarily through direct or indirect contact with infected animals. Fluid and scabs from FMD lesions (blisters) are highly contaminated with the virus.
The virus is spread through contact with:
- blood, saliva, milk or manure from infected animals
- contaminated animal products
- food products (such as meats, cheeses) that have not been properly prepared
- feed made with ingredients derived from infected animals, or that has come into contact with infected animals
- hands, footwear, clothing, tools or equipment contaminated with the FMD virus
- surfaces contaminated with the FMD virus; for example, trucks, fencing, loading ramps and even roads
- the airborne virus: under favourable climatic conditions, air-currents will carry the FMD virus long distances downwind from infected farms
Animals that have been exposed to FMD can spread the virus 1 to 2 days prior to the onset of clinical signs. Under the right conditions, the virus can survive up to 14 days on clothing and shoes, and for months in meat or dairy products. It can also survive up to 200 days in manure, straw and soil, and up to 398 days on wood in the presence of organic matter.
Risk to humans
Although human infection is rare, people can be carriers. The virus can live up to 36 hours in the human throat.
Prevention and control
The threat of FMD remains in some African countries, South Korea, Japan, mainland China and Vietnam. Farms and ranches hosting visitors from countries affected with FMD or perhaps planning travel to affected countries must be especially vigilant about biosecurity.
To reduce the global impact of FMD and the risk of reintroduction of the disease into free areas, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and OIE developed a Global FMD Control Strategy. The strategy was endorsed in 2012 by representatives from more than 100 countries and international and regional partners in Bangkok, Thailand. Some countries may also be aiming at eradicating the disease and other countries that have already been recognised as free from FMD at maintaining their status.
The CFIA is responsible for the control and eradication of FMD in Canada. The CFIA prohibits the importation of livestock and livestock products from infected countries into Canada. The CFIA and Canada Customs conduct surveillance of passengers and baggage from international flights. Detector dogs are employed to discover any hidden meat, dairy or other ‘at risk’ products.
For more information, see Response to Foot and Mouth Disease (CFIA).
Biosecurity measures for travellers
Travelers must declare all meat, dairy or other animal products (such as semen, embryos and hides) brought into Canada.
Anyone entering Canada from a country with FMD should avoid for 14 days all contact with livestock, farm equipment, feed operations, slaughter plants, wilderness areas, national parks, and zoos.
Anyone who must visit one of the above-mentioned areas within 2 weeks of entering Canada must take appropriate biosecurity precautions. These include:
- clean and disinfect all footwear worn abroad; the best practice for at-risk areas is to wear footwear not worn abroad
- dry clean all clothing worn abroad
- thoroughly shower and clean under fingernails
- disinfect all equipment and personal effects (such as cell phones, luggage)
- follow all biosecurity protocols
If your home is on a livestock farm, make alternate accommodation arrangements for at least 36 hours before returning to the farm. Have someone bring a complete change of clothing and footwear to wear home, and dry clean your clothing at your first opportunity.
Biosecurity measures on farms
If you suspect FMD in your herd, do not transport any animals to and from your farm, and restrict visitors and travel until you are confident that FMD is not present.
An effective biosecurity plan is essential to prevent the introduction of infectious diseases like FMD into a herd. Continuous evaluation of biosecurity procedures is important. Commitment, dedication and persistence by all farm staff including owners and visitors is required for successful implementation of biosecurity.
Vaccination is used for control and eradication of FMD in countries where the disease is endemic. There are 7 different strains of FMD, and vaccines offer little cross protection between them. Although vaccination is effective in preventing clinical signs of the disease, it does not always prevent infection, allowing some animals to be carriers. The vaccine's protective effect does not last long, so animals would need to be inoculated frequently.
A vaccine is not available on the market in Canada. Canada's policy does not allow FMD vaccination except in certain clearly defined situations, such as in the face of an overwhelming outbreak. For more information, see Response to Foot and Mouth Disease (CFIA).
There is no treatment for foot and mouth disease.
Foot and Mouth Disease – Biosecurity Information for Agricultural Sector Travelers – brochure (PDF, 522 KKB)
Foot and Mouth Disease poster – 11 x 17 (PDF, 554 KB)
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