In 2001, there was a serious outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the UK. Officially, there were 2,000 cases, but in reality the impact was much more extensive. Farms where there was an outbreak of FMD had to have all their livestock killed and burned.

Of the various livestock diseases there are, foot-and-mouth can be devastating, both to livestock and the farming economy.

Therefore, preventing FMD is imperative. The key to this is good biosecurity, including thorough, systematic disinfection.


What is Foot-and-Mouth Disease?

FMD is a severe viral disease that affects cattle, sheep, pigs and goats and other animals with cloven hooves. If not controlled it will spread rapidly. For this reason, it is a notifiable disease.

There are seven different types of virus that can cause FMD, but these are indistinguishable from each other except via laboratory analysis. Where livestock have immunity to one type of virus, this will not protect them from other types.

FMD survives in the lymph nodes and bone marrow of livestock at neutral pH, and it can be persistent, remaining in contaminated environments for up to a month, depending on pH and temperature conditions.

When airborne, it can spread considerable distances.

Animals pick up this livestock disease either through contact with other infected animals, or by eating or coming into contact with an infected carcass.

But if contaminated, people, vehicles and other equipment can spread it too.

How Dangerous is It?

The disease is not usually fatal, except where very young animals contract it.

But the after-effects of FMD are serious. Animals which get it suffer a loss of condition, and they may contract secondary bacterial infections, which prolong their period of illness and recovery.

Dairy cattle suffer the most dangerous after-effects of FMD. There is a loss of milk yield, and cattle can develop chronic mastitis.

FMD can leave cattle with sterility and chronic lameness. Some may develop chronic heart disease. Abortion is often necessary.

Fundamentally, FMD reduces the value of affected cattle permanently.


How to Spot the Signs of Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Symptoms of FMD include a high temperature in animals, followed by the development of blisters on the feet and in the mouth.

However, in sheep and goats the symptoms may be less severe, and the disease is a sub-clinical infection.

The signs to look for in infected animals are:

  • Fever, high temperature
  • Blisters on feet and mouth
  • Blisters on teats (cows)
  • Milk yield reduced
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frothing at the mouth
  • Slobbering or smacking lips
  • Sudden lameness (sheep, pigs)
  • Reluctance to move
  • Lying down (sheep, pigs).

The fluid in the blisters that animals develop contains large amounts of the virus.

The virus can also appear in milk, saliva, dung and in air that livestock breathe out.

Contact with any of these things can lead to contamination of other animals.

When the disease is at its height, the virus is also in an animal’s blood and the animal will excrete the virus a few days before there are visible signs of the disease. This can produce large numbers of virus particles.

Along with its airborne spread, FMD is highly contagious, spreading easily and widely, if not contained and controlled.

There can be a mechanical spread of it, if people, vehicles or equipment pick up the virus. FMD can even contaminate roads.


What Happens if You Discover FMD?

Under law, you must immediately report FMD to DEFRA, if you are the owner of an infected animal or carcass.

There will then need to be restrictions on anyone, animal or object leaving the premises without permission.

If there is official confirmation of the disease being present, you must value and slaughter all infected animals and animals that are susceptible.

This will need to happen without delay.


Best Methods for Preventing FMD

FMD is very difficult to control, because it is so highly contagious. Immediate controls centre on quarantine and movement restrictions. But treatment essentially comes down to culling.

However, there are forms of long-term prevention that farmers can take.

This comes down to establishing and maintaining good biosecurity.

The most essential aspect of this is keeping everything clean. This includes regular washing of hands after contact with livestock, but also systematic cleaning and disinfection of buildings, equipment and livestock water supplies.

DEFRA publishes a list of approved disinfectants for on-farm use.

Other preventative measures include:

  • Inspecting animals regularly
  • Keeping different species of livestock separate from each other
  • Wearing clean, protective clothing solely for your use on your farm
  • Discouraging non-essential visits to your farm
  • Keeping a ready supply of approved disinfectant on hand.


Which Disinfectant Should You Choose?

Preventing livestock diseases like FMD requires a disinfectant that is proven to be effective, but is also non-harmful to livestock.

Oxyl-Pro is a stabilised hydrogen peroxide disinfectant, with a revolutionary encapsulation method for stabilisation, using only food-safe ingredients.

It has a broad range of applications, including livestock water treatment and as a surface disinfectant.

It has no smell, colour or taste at recommended doses, and is a single-drum treatment for direct dosing.

It is DEFRA-approved against foot and mouth.

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