Foot-and-Mouth Could Affect U.S. Mobility

KNOXVILLE — One of the most dire impacts of a U.S. outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease could be the restrictions it would put on Americans’ mobility, a University of Tennessee veterinarian said Wednesday.

Dr. Leon Potgieter, head of comparative medicine in UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said there’s been no U.S. foot-and-mouth outbreak since 1929, and the impact then was limited mostly to farmers.

A U.S. outbreak today, however, could cause major urban and suburban disruption because of quarantines, travel restrictions and vehicle disinfectant procedures that would slow traffic, he said.

“Since the last U.S. case early in the last century, there have been dramatic changes in our ability to move around the country and around the world,” Potgieter said.

“Trade with any region that has the disease is shut down immediately. If someone comes from an infected area or brings in meat or animal products, that’s something the customs officers are looking for.”

Before coming to UT in 1978, Potgieter was a state veterinarian in South Africa and worked in a foot-and-mouth eradication program in Swaziland.

Veterinarians educated at UT are trained to look for signs of the disease as part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture network program of customs officials and agriculturalists designed to prevent its reintroduction.

Foot-and-mouth disease affects cloven-hoof animals such as cattle, sheep, hogs and deer. Humans and horses cannot catch it, but can transport the disease.

It spreads rapidly from animals, farm equipment, vehicles and people’s shoes and can travel up to 14 miles in the wind, Potgieter said.

The disease can drastically affect farm economies, reducing milk production in dairy herds and weight in swine and beef cattle, he said. Most animals recover and become resistant, but may remain carriers for up to two years.

Quarantine and slaughter are the most effective and economical means of controlling the disease, Potgieter said. Vaccination used in some countries is less effective, costlier and does not prevent its spread, he said.