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Foot-and-mouth scourge spreads

BY SUSAN KIM | Baltimore, MD | March 22, 2001

"If foot-and-mouth were to spread unchecked, the economic impact, could reach billions of dollars in the first year alone, estimated USDA."


As foot-and-mouth disease spread to Ireland Thursday, U.S. officials were determined to keep the scourge from

entering this country.

Livestock animals in the U.S. are highly susceptible to foot-and-mouth, according to reports from the USDA. If an outbreak occurred in this

country, the disease could spread rapidly through routine livestock movements unless it was detected early and eradicated immediately. If

foot-and-mouth were to spread unchecked, the economic impact could reach billions of dollars in the first year alone, estimated USDA.

Deer and wildlife populations could become infected rapidly and could be a source for re-infection of livestock.

The highly infectious disease hit Ireland -- a country heavily dependent on farm exports --

Thursday and the Netherlands Wednesday, widening its circle from Britain and France. More

than 220,000 animals have been slaughtered in Britain and 90,000 more will be killed. The virus

can be passed from animal to animal and can also be carried on people's clothes, on vehicle tires,

through contaminated facilities and bedding, and through food and water shared with infected


People can even breathe the disease onto their livestock since it can remain in human nasal

passages for as long as 28 hours. Nearly 100 percent of exposed animals become infected.

Ireland had taken tough measures to keep out foot-and- mouth, including banning St. Patrick's

day celebrations. Police and troops were stationed along the border to prevent the disease

entering the country.

Across Western Europe, farmers and officials are on high alert. The disease is spreading throughout Britain, with 394 confirmed cases as of

Wednesday morning. The scale of the outbreak is threatening to overwhelm efforts to contain the menace. Serious backlogs have been

reported in the process of diagnosis, destruction, and disposal of affected animals.

Nearly in the throes of lambing time, European farming families are concerned that, if the disease overtakes their herds, their lambing

investment and work with be for naught. In what many regard as an attempt to save rural businesses from bankruptcy, Britain has

launched an advertising campaign to encourage tourists to visit the countryside. New York travel agents have already reported a

slowdown in bookings for this summer, the traditional time for trips to the countryside.

The U.S. has taken precautions to keep foot-and-mouth disease out of the country since 1929, said Kim Smith, spokesperson for the U.S.

Department of Agriculture (USDA). "We're been protecting the U.S. from this for 70 years."

In recent weeks, the USDA stepped up measures to guard against foot-and-mouth disease, announcing last week it was temporarily

prohibiting importation of swine and ruminant products from the European Union.

The USDA is also prohibiting travelers from carrying into the U.S. any agricultural products -- particularly animal products -- which could

spread the disease. Passengers are required to identify any farm contact to customs and USDA officials, and their baggage is subject to

inspection. Violations could result in penalties of up to $1,000.

Last week USDA inspectors held a mock inspection at Dulles International Airport on the outskirts of Washington, DC to help educate

travelers about the agricultural clearance process.

Even as Britain tries to send the message that tourists are welcome, the U.S. is recommending that travelers avoid farms, sale barns,

stockyards, animal laboratories, packing houses, zoos, fairs, and other animal facilities for five days prior to returning to the U.S. or

traveling elsewhere. They should also avoid contact with livestock or wildlife for five days after travel.

Travelers are also being cautioned to launder or dry clean all clothing and outerwear, and to wipe shoes, luggage and personal items --

including watches, cameras, laptops, CD players, and cell phones -- with a bleach solution.

The U.S. sent a team of 40 federal, state, and university officials to the European Union to assist in containment efforts.

The disease is economically devastating because it spreads rapidly among cattle and swine, and also affects sheep, goats, deer, and other

cloven-hoofed ruminants. Many affected animals recover, but the disease leaves them debilitated, causing severe losses in production of

meat and milk. Humans are not susceptible to the virus.

Symptoms of foot-and-mouth disease include blisters around the mouth or on the feet, reduced appetite, and lameness. If such symptoms

were spotted in U.S., an investigation would be conducted, and the location would be placed under quarantine until laboratory tests

confirmed whether or not the condition was foot-and- mouth.

The USDA established a toll-free telephone number (800- 601-9327) to respond to questions from the public and industry representatives

regarding response to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Europe.

The U.S. is also wary of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), especially after two flocks of dairy sheep in

Vermont were suspected of carrying a disease related to mad cow. Government agents already seized one flock and are planning to seize

the other. The foot-and-mouth scare coincides with Europe's creeping epidemic of BSE.

The human form of BSE, known as new-variant Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease, has killed more than 80 people in Britain and Europe. Recently

released reports suggest that suggest the fatal disease has an average incubation period of 30 years and may claim thousands or tens of

thousands more victims, scientists warned.

The brain-wasting disease, which has no known cure, devastated Britain's cattle industry and was first identified in 1986.

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