DoD, U.S. Agencies Team To Keep Out Foot-And-Mouth Disease
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 29, 2001 The U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Customs and DoD are working together to prevent foot-and-mouth disease, which has cropped up in Britain and Europe, from coming stateside.
"We need to continue following USDA guidelines that have been in place for years" to keep foot-and-mouth disease out of the United States, said Dr. (Lt. Col.) Robert D. Weir, chief of animal medicine at DoD's Veterinary Service Activity.
Weir noted the disease was last seen in the United States in 1929.
The Army is DoD's executive agent for veterinary services, said Weir, who has met with USDA and senior Pentagon officials over foot-and-mouth disease issues.
Recent outbreaks of the disease in Britain, Ireland, France and the Netherlands are a DoD concern, Weir said, since U.S. troops and family members stationed in Britain and throughout Europe could be affected by movement restrictions that impact training and affect the availability of certain food items.
However, he noted that effective import restrictions have been in place in the United States for a long time to keep out diseases such as foot-and-mouth. Since the recent outbreak in Europe, Weir said, DoD has taken measures to heighten awareness and enhance inspection and disinfecting procedures to avoid the spread of foot-and-mouth disease and prevent its entry into the United States.
Overseas- and stateside-based U.S. Agriculture and Customs officials "are enforcing guidelines that have worked for years and are still working," Weir said. The disease virus, he noted, can survive in infected meat, milk, dairy products and animal byproducts. Humans can transport the virus on clothes, dirty shoes or other dirt-encrusted items or equipment, he added.
Airplane and shipboard passengers returning to the states from overseas are required to fill out U.S. Customs and Agriculture Department forms and declare any food and other foreign items being brought into the country, Weir said. Travelers and baggage arriving from countries with foot- and-mouth disease outbreaks are liable for heightened scrutiny and inspections, he noted.
Additionally, long-standing U.S. military processes overseas dovetail with U.S. Customs and Agriculture Department procedures that prepare service members' household goods, vehicles and equipment prior to shipment back to the states to prevent the importation of diseases, Weir said.
Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoofed (two-toed) livestock animals such as cattle, sheep, swine, goats and wildlife like deer and antelope, said Army Dr. (Capt.) Nina A. Kaplan, a veterinarian and staff officer at the Veterinary Service Activity. Fever and blisters found on an affected animal's tongue, mouth, nostrils, teats or feet characterize the disease, she said.
"Animals can survive the acute illness, but never fully recover," Kaplan said. "Foot-and-mouth disease can be economically devastating to farmers and dairymen -- anyone dealing with livestock."
Kaplan said the disease is highly contagious. "For instance, if you had a herd of cattle or pigs you could count on nearly every animal getting sick in a matter of days," she said.
Cats, dogs and horses don't contract foot-and-mouth disease, Kaplan said, but they can carry the virus on their feet and coats.
Governments are concerned about outbreaks, Weir said, because foot-and-mouth disease triggers trade restrictions.
To prevent the spread of the disease, "livestock, meat and dairy products from affected countries cannot be exported to any country that is foot-and-mouth disease free," he said, adding that international trade can be severely impacted.
Weir said foot-and-mouth disease is not considered a risk to consumers, although a few laboratory workers and butchers exposed to the open blisters of infected animals have contracted a mild form of the disease, with cold-like symptoms.
"It is not transmitted from person to person," he said.
Weir reiterated that time-tested policies are in place to prevent the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease to the United States.
"Travelers need to be aware of and follow travel advisories and make sure they adhere to and comply with USDA guidelines," he concluded.