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FAQs

  1. Why is FMD such an important disease if it does not affect humans and is not generally a lethal infection of animals?
    The answer to this question is subjective because it is often held that because the disease is capable of rapid spread over long distances (highly contagious) and, because of the diversity of FMD viruses with little or not cross protection, the disease is very difficult to manage under intensive farming conditions that prevail in the developed world. Therefore, North America, most of Europe and some Pacific Rim countries spent huge amounts of money, time and effort in eradicating FMD and go to great lengths to prevent its re-introduction.

    On the other hand, in extensive farming regions, such as in most of sub-Saharan Africa, FMD often spreads slowly and has limited impact on either wild or domestic animals. These regions are usually arid and so the people there are very dependent on livestock production and export of live animals and meat. However, international trade regulations and conventions prohibit the export of livestock and meat from FMD endemic areas to high value markets in North America, Europe and Japan. Thus FMD has huge impact on the ability of developing countries to access markets where good prices can be obtained.

    So the importance of FMD is largely determined by the reaction of governments and trading organisations to it rather than the direct effects of the disease. In other words, it’s not so much the disease that determines FMD’s importance but man-made rules that do not always make technical or economic sense.
  2. What is the role of wildlife in the maintenance and spread of FMD?
    In most of the world FMD viruses infrequently spill over from domestic animals into wildlife populations but, so far, wildlife such as gazelles and deer have not proven capable of maintaining FMD viruses independently of livestock. In sub-Saharan Africa the situation is different because there is good evidence that the three SAT serotypes of FMD virus co-evolved with African buffalo over a wide area of the subcontinent. These SAT viruses can also infect livestock, cattle particularly, as well as other cloven-hoofed wildlife. The evidence is that only buffalo and cattle are able to maintain SAT serotypes independently of other species.

    African buffalo therefore play a central role in the maintenance and spread of FMD. Most free-living buffalo populations are infected with the SAT viruses although a few were historically free from infection such as those of the Addo Elephant Park (Eastern Cape) and northern Zululand (South Africa). Breeding programmes of captive buffalo can be used to raise FMD-free buffalo and this was widely done in Zimbabwe initially and later in South Africa.
  3. Can FMD affect people?
    People are essentially not susceptible to infection with FMD viruses. However, there are reports in the scientific literature of people being infected with FMD viruses and so it is impossible to be dogmatic on the issue. If people do become infected it is exceedingly rare and the lesions it causes are not life-threatening. Therefore FMD in people has little if any practical importance. Most reports of FMD in people are related to hand, foot and mouth disease virus, a common infection of children especially in institutions such as nurseries and schools (see below).
  4. What is the relationship between foot and mouth disease (FMD) and hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD)?
    Although both these diseases are caused by viruses within the same family (Picornaviridae) they belong to different genera. There is therefore no real connection between the two diseases at all; HFMD affects humans only while FMD is a disease of animals that does not affect people or, if it does, only in the most exceptional circumstances.
  5. Are there treatments or vaccines available for used against FMD?
    There are currently no drugs commercially available that can be used to treat animals suffering from FMD. However, it is likely that in future they will become available.

    Vaccines to prevent the disease in animals are available but even the best FMD vaccines are not very effective because: (1) there are so many different variants of FMD viruses (7 serotypes with many variants within each serotype) that provide little or no cross protection and (2) the vaccines induce immunity which is of short duration unless animals have been vaccinated repeatedly.

    Because FMD is considered a very serious problem the use of drugs or vaccines against FMD are usually strictly controlled by most governments, i.e. these are not generally available for farmers to administer.