Foot and Mouth Disease Causes Stir

An outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in Europe has caused considerable concern to the United States horse industry. On March 13 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) placed a ban on specific animal and animal product imports from European Union (EU) countries. The ban does not include horses, because they are not susceptible. In fact, it is common practice for the U.S. to import horses from foot and mouth disease-affected or endemic countries, but under very strict disinfection protocol.

“We have a list of FMD (affected) countries, and have had it for 30 years,” explained Tim Cordes, DVM, Senior Staff Veterinarian of Equine Programs at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “When a horse comes in from a FMD country, we have a whole entry protocol for these horses, that consists of exams, foot baths, and bathing in a carbolic solution, a well-known treatment (for disinfection),” he added.

Foot and mouth disease is an acute, highly contagious, viral infection only of cloven-hoofed animals spread mainly by animal movement, but also potentially spread by particles in the air. Horses cannot contract the disease or biologically act as a vector or carrier of the disease. “A horse can only do what a human, a truck tire, or a suitcase can do: carry the disease mechanically,” said Cordes.

The current European outbreak began when FMD was confirmed in the U.K. in pigs on Feb. 20. The disease has since spread to Ireland and to one premise in France. Movement of horses within Europe has virtually stopped. New Zealand has put in effect a policy like that of the U.S. Australia took further measures by banning imports of livestock including horses from EU countries or countries currently affected by FMD, or where the disease is endemic.

“It’s hysteria at a high level,” explained Cordes about the situation. He explained that within Europe, they believe the main culprit in spreading the disease from farm to farm has been trucks on the highways, but officials cannot be sure. “When you’re not sure what the mode of transmission is, airing to the conservative is not a bad idea,” he added.

There is no need for horse owners in the U.S. to be alarmed, however. The import center has great experience in handling horses that might have been exposed to the disease. “There is a good protocol currently in place,” Cordes explained. “All we are going to do is add these (newly infected) countries to the list of FMD countries.”

Procedure and Requirements for Handling Horses Imported into the United States from Countries with FMD:

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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