December 11, 2022

Questions and answers from the Ministry of Agriculture: What is foot-and-mouth disease and…

Reggie Ngcobo, spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture. (Picture: Twitter)

Question: The country is facing an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in six provinces. This led Minister Didiza to ban the movement of cattle across the country for three weeks. What causes foot and mouth disease?

Answer: Foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a highly contagious virus and is contagious to cloven-hoofed animals including sheep, pigs, goats, cattle, and various wildlife.

Q: Is there a relationship between foot and mouth disease and mad cow disease?

A: No, there is nothing to do with mad cow disease. (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy). BSE is an incurable and progressive neurological disorder of cattle that results from infection with a transmissible agent called a prion. Foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus. BSE is deadly and can be transmitted to humans through infected meat. Foot-and-mouth disease is not transmissible to humans. Foot-and-mouth disease virus is highly contagious only to cloven-hoofed animals and results in economic and production losses due to reduced feed intake and milk production. However, infected animals can recover from lesions/blisters caused by the virus.

Q: How is foot and mouth disease spread to other animals?

A: Foot-and-mouth disease can be spread through direct and indirect contact with infected animals. Direct contact includes nose-to-nose contact, contact with bodily fluids, manure and by-products. Indirect contact includes fomites that infected animals have had contact with, people, trucks, equipment, and air/wind, known as aerosol transmission. People can spread the disease regardless of changing clothes and showering, as they can harbor the disease in their nasal passages and transmit the virus to uninfected animals they come into contact with. All people in contact with suspected or infected animals are advised to quarantine/isolate for at least 48 hours before working with uninfected susceptible species.

Q: Years ago, if there was a virus, there would be checkpoints where people would disinfect shoes, cars, tires, etc. How does the department control the areas affected by foot-and-mouth disease?

A: In infected properties, foot-and-mouth disease can be controlled by quarantining animals with suspected or confirmed positive lesions. These animals must not be able to have direct or indirect contact with other susceptible animals.

Foot-and-mouth disease virus can also be spread through indirect contact. For this reason, it is recommended that people working with animals with FMD not be allowed to work with other unaffected susceptible species, or people who have interacted with infected animals should disinfect clothing and boots, shower and quarantine (have no contact with susceptible animals) for at least 48 hours before working with healthy animals. All equipment and vehicles that have been used on infected properties should be disinfected with recommended commercial products, 3% diluted bleach or 4% diluted soda ash with water.

Clawed animals that have been in contact with positive, infected animals or animals with suspicious lesions cannot be transported to new places under any circumstances. All stakeholders, farmers, herders, para-veterinarians and veterinarians have been advised to be on the lookout for and report any suspicious clinical signs of FMD, and to respect the movement controls put in place to control the spread foot-and-mouth disease.

Finally, animals can be vaccinated against foot and mouth disease to help control the spread of the disease…this is a state controlled activity.

Q: What can farmers do when they suspect or see a case of foot and mouth disease on their farms?

A: Isolate or quarantine affected/suspect animals. All suspected FMD outbreaks should be reported immediately to the local animal health technician or state veterinarian. A member of the state veterinary team will be deployed to follow up on the breeder’s report to inspect for suspected disease.

Q: How long does it take to quarantine cattle if there is a positive FMD case on the farm or in the area?

A: When suspicious lesions are detected and reported, a member of the local state veterinary team will be deployed to follow up on the report. If the lesions are suspicious of foot and mouth disease and blood and/or tissue samples are taken, the property will be quarantined. The quarantine can be lifted if the investigations carried out lead to the conclusion that the breeding is negative. However, there may still be movement control in place regardless of the FMD status of the property due to its proximity to positive infected premises.

Q: What happens to animals that test positive for foot and mouth disease? Are they killed?

A: No, it is not necessary to kill infected animals. However, reducing the number of animals shedding FMD virus will reduce the risk of spread to other properties. It is advisable that animals intended for slaughter be slaughtered as soon as possible. Infected animals can be vaccinated. However, their vaccination status will limit their movement and marketing.

Q: Can meat from an infected animal be eaten?

A: The foot and mouth disease virus does not affect people. However, it is important to handle meat and products from slaughtered animals carefully, as the virus can be spread through these products.

The World Organization for Animal Health recommends the following measures for the inactivation of foot-and-mouth disease virus in meat and meat products: 1) Canning of meat and meat products at at least minus 70°C for at least 30 minutes; 2) Complete cooking of the previously deboned meat at at least 70°C for at least 30 minutes; and 3) Drying after salting with salt (NaCl) and complete drying.

Q: Can the skin of infected cattle be used?

A: The skins must be salted for 28 days, or dried.

Q: In provinces that have not reported any cases of FMD, is there anyone monitoring livestock movements?

A: Currently, a movement ban is imposed on livestock across the country. Beyond this, all stakeholders have been made aware of the increased risk of movement and purchase of susceptible animals and are urged to be vigilant. DM/OBP