Britain stopped all exports of hoofed animals after foot-and-mouth disease was detected on a farm in Southern England Friday.
The disease is described by the USDA as a "severe, highly communicable viral disease of cattle and swine... Foot-and-mouth disease is one of the animal diseases that livestock owners dread most." The USDA estimates it would cost the U.S. livestock industry billions in the first year, if an outbreak were to occur here.
Because the disease occurs in many parts of the world, there is always a chance of its accidental introduction into the United States. Animals and animal byproducts from areas known to be infected are prohibited entry into this country.
"Livestock animals in this country are highly susceptible to foot-and-mouth disease viruses. If an outbreak occurred in the United States, this disease could spread rapidly to all sections of the country by routine livestock movements unless it was detected early and eradicated immediately," according to the USDA. "If foot-and-mouth disease were to spread unchecked, the economic impact could reach billions of dollars in the first year."
The virus -- which has seven known strains -- also affects sheep, goats, deer, and other cloven-hoofed ruminants. "Deer and wildlife populations could become infected rapidly and could be a source for reinfection of livestock," according to the USDA. The disease is not thought to have any effect on humans, but it causes devastating effects in a herd of animals -- and its detection in one animal usually results in the slaughter of all animals as a precaution.
That's the case in England, where livestock on the affected farms have been destroyed. It causes "fever and blister-like lesions followed by erosions on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats, and between the hooves," according to the USDA. "Many affected animals recover, but the disease leaves them debilitated. It causes severe losses in the production of meat and milk."
The disease hasn't been detected in the United States since 1929, and quarantines are in place that are designed to prevent its spread to the U.S.
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