Response to an FMD Outbreak

Although North America has remained FMD-free since 1929 through the use of stringent biosecurity measures, some experts believe that it is only a matter of time before the disease is either imported inadvertently or deliberately introduced. The causative virus is robust, highly contagious and may also infect wild animals. While it may be difficult and expensive to eradicate an outbreak of FMD, there are established methods for both containment and surveillance.

CASE STUDY: How worried are you about Foot and Mouth Disease and its spread from importation and deliberate introduction? - Shaun Kennedy

The World Organization for Animal Health has developed guidelines for FMD-free countries that experience an outbreak (such as Taiwan and the UK) to regain their FMD-free status and participate once again in international trade. These recommendations provide a more rapid return to FMD-free status if an outbreak is controlled by slaughter alone, without the use of vaccination. As a result, FMD- free countries such as the United States, the UK, and other West European countries have historically used control strategies based on the slaughter of infected animals and those in their immediate vicinity. After the UK outbreak of 2001, some countries have changed their policies to include vaccine strategies.

Were an FMD outbreak to occur in the United States, the veterinary authorities would seek to interrupt transmission of the virus by destroying not only sick animals but all susceptible livestock and wildlife within a radius around an infected farm. Quarantine and culling of herds would continue throughout the affected region until the outbreak was stamped out. The rationale for this policy is based on the economic calculation that culling is the fastest way to eliminate FMD and resume exports of livestock and meat products. This approach has a number of drawbacks, however. In addition to the adverse economic and environmental effects of large-scale culling, the practice is traumatic for farm workers and the general public. Moreover, the last FMD outbreak in the United States took place in 1929, long before the invention of television. In today’s 24/7 media culture, disturbing images of mass slaughter would create a serious public-relations problem for the government.2