The basics of foot-and-mouth disease

Foot-and-mouth disease has drastically reduced South Africa beef exports, as importing countries buy animals and animal by-products only from FMD-free countries.

The basics of foot-and-mouth disease
Foot-and-mouth disease is present in a large population of African buffalo in the Kruger National Park. The movement of these animals may lead to the spread of the disease. Photo: Nel Botha

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is caused by a virus found in the body secretions of infected animals; these include saliva, urine, faeces and milk, and even the air breathed out by them during sneezing or snorting.

Animals become infected with FMD when ingesting the virus from these secretions. In addition, humans can spread the virus via clothing, shoes, hands and car tyres.

READ Biosecurity: your first line of defence against disease

Outbreaks have occurred in cattle, pigs and impala in South Africa, but all cloven-hoofed animals can be affected.

Symptoms include:

  • Fluid-filled blisters in the mouth. These can burst, leaving raw, painful sores. As a result, the animal may not feed properly and lose condition;
  • Drooling, caused by the blisters;
  • Blisters at the skin-hoof junction. These, too, may burst open and leave raw areas, making the animal lame in one or more feet or even causing the loss of claws or hooves;
  • On pigs: blisters on the snout, ‘knees’ or other bony parts of the body;
  • On dairy cows: sores on the teats and, often, severe mastitis, with a sudden drop in milk production.

Redline areas
Most buffalo in the Kruger National Park carry FMD, and can therefore spread it to other animals in the park or the surrounding farming areas.

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To prevent the infection of livestock, the authorities apply strict control measures in these so-called redline areas, limiting the movement of animals by means of legal movement permits and the use of vaccines.

Vaccinated animals are branded with an ‘F’ and are not allowed to leave a redline area. These cattle act as a shield to prevent the disease from spreading to farm animals in that area.

A controlled disease
FMD is a controlled disease in South Africa, and there is no cure for it. In the event of an outbreak, co-operate with your local vet, extension officer and animal health technician, as FMD is a disease of national importance.

Animals are vaccinated under very strict government control; no animal may be vaccinated without the approval of the National Directorate of Veterinary Services.

Source: Mangera, SY. 2004. ‘Foot-and-mouth disease’, Department of Agriculture/ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute. Retrieved from kzndard.gov.za