The first steps in an outbreak of FMD would be to stop animal movement and establish biosecurity measures in the affected area.
There’s an old joke about paranoia: “I know I’m paranoid, but I worry that I’m not as paranoid as I should be.” Maybe we don’t need to be “paranoid” over the prospect of a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) incident in the United States, but a high level of concern is appropriate. And that concern should lead to an enhanced level of preparedness.
The United States has been free of FMD since 1929, but the virus remains endemic in much of the world and significant outbreaks have occurred recently in several previously FMD-free countries.
The good news is researchers and veterinarians have learned a great deal about FMD in recent years, and historical experience should enable a more effective response. The bad news is the virus is one of the most infectious known and can easily spread within or between herds through direct or indirect contact. An outbreak in the United States would result in significant losses to the beef, dairy and other livestock industries.
Speaking at this year’s FMD symposium in Louisville, Ky., Sebastian Heath, VetMB, PhD, branch chief of program development at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the United States would recover from an outbreak and return to FMD-free status, but long-term effects would be significant. Those impacts include direct or additional costs of doing business in an outbreak, such as federal compensation for culled animals and interest on loans for recovery. In the 2001 U.K. outbreak, direct costs totaled $2.4 billion. Outbreaks also bring indirect costs such as revenue not earned on depopulated herds, effects of quarantines on livestock species not affected by FMD and non-agricultural impacts such as loss of tourism. Following an outbreak, producers typically face new production costs such as new requirements for testing or recordkeeping. Finally, outbreaks can lead to shifts in revenue streams that can be positive or negative. During the U.K. outbreak, for example, the government paid about $263 million less in export subsidies in 2002 than in 2001, about equal with the lost trade revenue. For years after the outbreak, Heath says, waste-management companies were doing lucrative business managing runoff and seepage from the sites where thousands of culled animals were buried. Someone was making money from the outbreak; it just wasn’t farmers.