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Farming - Foot & Mouth Disease

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 30 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Foot And Mouth Disease Symptoms Of Foot

Foot and Mouth Disease is a serious and infectious condition which affects cloven-hoofed animals which is why the farming community need to be very vigilant about it, given that it can affect sheep, cattle, goats, pigs and deer. Although it can be fatal for younger animals on a vast scale, it doesn’t affect older animals in quite as debilitating a manner but the main effects then are the disruption to the overall health of farm animals and the economic losses that can devastate farmers as a result of an outbreak.

Spotting the Signs

There are plenty of tell-tale signs that an animal might have contracted foot and mouth disease. Symptoms can vary slightly depending on the type of animal affected but common symptoms to all can include:

  • Lameness
  • Blisters on hooves or in or around the mouth
  • Raised temperature
  • Fatigue and a tendency to want to lie down
  • Reluctance to feed or to suckle the young

How is it Spread?

Animals can contract the disease by catching the virus either directly or indirectly from another infected animal. The virus itself is present in the fluid as a result of the blisters it causes and also then appears in its saliva, urine, dung, milk and even in the air it exhales. Direct contact with an infected animal can occur where animals share a pen or field or even by nose to nose contact if they are separated by a fence.

Indirect contact can occur though coming into contact with infected material from another animal, from contaminated clothing from a worker who has had contact with an infected animal and via equipment and even vehicles which have become contaminated with the virus. Even domestic cats, dogs, poultry animals and foxes can end up contaminating cloven- hoofed livestock by carrying the virus on them via their feet, fur or feathers, although they, themselves will not become infected.

What You Must Do

You must inform your Divisional Veterinary Manager (DVM) and until he/she comes to inspect the farm and the animals, you must place a ‘keep out’ sign on the premises and not move anything from the farm which could cause a spread of the disease. All suppliers to the farm, e.g. fuel or food deliveries must not be allowed onto the premises until an animal health veterinary inspector arrives and gives the all clear and any such suppliers who are already present at the farm should remain there until the animal health veterinary inspector arrives. You must also ensure that no animals can stray onto your land or can move from it.

Importance of Biosecurity

Practising good hygiene and biosecurity on a farm is always important but never more so than when an outbreak of foot and mouth disease is suspected. It’s important to keep yourself, clothing, vehicles and other equipment clean and disinfected and keep vehicle movements to a minimum. Keeping the different types of livestock separate from each other is also important. It’s also crucial to change out of your work clothes if you ever leave the premises and especially if you are going to meet people who also keep livestock or are visiting their premises although you should only make these types of visits if absolutely necessary.

What Happens Next?

If foot and mouth is confirmed, the veterinary inspector will serve a restriction notice which will tell you what you must do next and what you are not permitted to do after carrying out a range of tests on the livestock in order to minimise the risk of the disease spreading if it is confirmed. All animals which are confirmed to have contracted the virus will ultimately be humanely culled.

Further information about foot and mouth disease can be found on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) website.

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