Thursday, February 2, 2023

Foot-and-mouth crisis concerns spread to U

April 19, 2001

What’s quickly becoming an overseas crisis is gradually becoming a concern for MSU officials.

MSU agricultural experts are taking notice of the overseas outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, all the while preparing for the possibility of the epidemic finding its way onto American soil.

The first case of the disease was confirmed in Great Britain on Feb. 20 - nearly one month later the number of infected areas had risen to 256.

“We have posted signs that warn people who have recently come from Europe not to enter the pavilion,” said Nicole Barber, administrative manager of the MSU Pavilion for Agriculture and Livestock Education. “We really need to make sure people are aware that they could be carrying this disease and not know it.”

Foot-and-mouth is a highly contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals. It is characterized by high fever and bleeding blisters on animals’ hooves and mouths, which prevent them from eating and producing quality by-products such as milk and meat.

The disease is fatal in most cases, and animals that don’t die rarely fully recover.

Last month, MSU officials announced the outbreak was forcing the university to temporarily cancel a Study Abroad trip slated to be held in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Also, one student was forced to return home from a trip because of the outbreak.

Maynard Hogberg, MSU professor of animal science, said the British government has spent more than $1 billion attempting to contain the disease - and he says the worst is yet to come.

“Foot-and-mouth is running rampant in Europe right now,” Hogberg said. “Another outbreak was discovered just last week in Ireland.

“Agricultural officials are projecting that the disease will peak sometime in June and then hopefully it will begin to taper off.”

During the past several months mild outbreaks were also reported in remote regions of Asia and South America, leading to concern that the disease could make its next appearance here in the United States.

Awareness is a critical factor

While foot-and-mouth can be deadly to animals, it can reside and live within the human respiratory system for weeks without any symptoms.

And it can be spread by direct contact or through the air, said Dan Grooms, an assistant professor in the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Foot-and-mouth is a disease that affects animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, deer, pigs and camels - but not horses.

The recent outbreaks in the United Kingdom, western Europe, Asia and South America have led to a heightened awareness of the disease here in the United States, Grooms said.

“Customs agents are taking extreme caution,” he said. “Countries with foot-and-mouth disease aren’t allowed to trade agricultural goods and animals with the U.S. during an outbreak.”

Kathleen Hawkins, executive director of The Michigan Beef Industry Commission and executive vice president of the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association, said the potential damage the disease may cause in the United States depends on how quickly it can be contained.

“We don’t have the disease in North America,” Hawkins said. “But if it did come here the damage would depend on how quickly the disease was identified and how quickly the control measures could be put in place.”

She said if the disease is contained quickly, the damage would be minimal. However, if it spreads throughout the country, agricultural losses would be in the neighborhood of billions of dollars, she said.

In Michigan there are 16,000 beef and dairy cattle operations throughout and there are about 980,000 head of cattle and calves in Michigan, she said.

“We have a very aggressive Department of Agriculture in Michigan, which is on top of these kinds of things,” Hawkins said. “If an outbreak were to occur, action would be taken immediately to control the disease by eradicating all of the infected animals.”

Officials in Great Britain have tried to slow the spread of the disease by destroying all infected animals. And that’s why the nation’s economic losses are so high, Hawkins said.

MSU looks to keep campus safe

The chances of foot-and-mouth disease making it to the United States are slim, but there is still a chance, Hogberg said.

“Spreading the disease is a risk anytime you bring animals together,” he said.

In Michigan, health papers are a state requirement for every animal transported. But the biggest risk is the movement of people, Hogberg said.

The university has already put stronger requirements on anyone visiting from abroad, he said.

“They are off-limits to the vet clinic and the off-campus farms to minimize the risk of spreading the disease,” Hogberg said.

And if the disease breaks out in the United States, the government would enforce much stricter control methods, including closing down livestock operations.

“It would be like a total lockdown,” Hogberg said.

MSU agriculture Study Abroad programs for the summer semester in England and Ireland, which were altered in March because of the contamination, had some students making alternative plans.

Of the 26 students who were slated to study in these countries, about 18 of them will now do so in New Zealand instead, said Paul Roberts, the acting associate dean for International Programs in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“One or two of the students decided on other Study Abroad programs,” he said.

And one MSU student studying at Greenmount College, an agricultural university in Northern Ireland, had to come home early because school officials closed down the campus because of the disease.

So far, the students planning to attend the now-cancelled program and the student forced to return home have been the only Study Abroad students affected by the disease, said Edward Ingraham, director of the Office of Study Abroad.

“As of now, all of our summer and fall semester Study Abroad programs will continue as usual,” Ingraham said.

Shades of the past

The last time foot-and-mouth was recorded in the United States was in 1929 in California, said Lonnie King, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“We are seeing the disease pop up in different areas, which makes it a potential problem for the United States, because it is by far the most infectious virus of livestock throughout the world,” King said.

Michigan has a brief history with the disease as well.

In 1925, an outbreak originated in Niles, about 200 miles southwest of Lansing, he said.

But now, there has been increased bio-security for all people coming from overseas and travelers are being highly scrutinized in terms of bringing back any agricultural goods, foods and meats, King said.

“In customs, just like they have drug dogs, they have been using beagles to sniff out any agricultural goods being brought into the country,” he said.

Travelers beware

Jack Laurie, former president of the Michigan Farm Bureau who is now an agriculture affairs specialist in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said responsibility has to fall on the shoulders of customs agents to inform travelers of the risk the disease presents.

“People coming back from other countries have to be properly warned that precautions need to be taken,” Laurie said. “This is so critical to the U.S. livestock industry that we have to do things in the short term, which may seem extravagant.”

People returning from outbreak areas need to completely disinfect themselves, by showering and by cleaning or disposing of shoes, boots and clothes.

“Those returning from infected countries also need to quarantine themselves from all livestock and agricultural products for at least one week,” he said.

He stresses that everybody coming back into the country - while there is no reason to panic - should take every precaution to prevent the disease from entering the country.

Meanwhile, he says he’s still confident even if there was an outbreak in the United States, officials would be able to contain the disease.

The organism that causes foot-and-mouth is very difficult to contain because it can be carried in the lungs and live for a couple of weeks, while normal respiratory actions, such as coughing and breathing, can spread the disease, he said.

“The issue today is the magnitude of travel back and forth with all of the countries throughout the world,” Laurie said. “The global economy that we are all excited about puts us at greater risk of getting a disease like foot-and-mouth.”

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