Foot and Mouth disease was diagnosed in the United Kingdom in early 2001 and within a few short weeks it spread to over 100 farms throughout the country. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a severe, highly communicable viral disease of cattle and swine. It also affects sheep, goats, deer, and other cloven-hooved ruminants. FMD is not recognized as a zoonotic disease. This country has been free of FMD since 1929, when the last of nine U.S. outbreaks was eradicated.

The disease is characterized by fever and blister-like lesions followed by erosions on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats, and between the hooves. Many affected animals recover, but the disease leaves them debilitated. It causes severe losses in the production of meat and milk.

Because it spreads widely and rapidly and because it has grave economic as well as clinical consequences, FMD is one of the animal diseases that livestock owners dread most.

What Causes It

The disease is caused by a virus. The virus survives in lymph nodes and bone marrow at neutral pH, but is destroyed in muscle when in pH <6.0 i.e. after rigor mortis. The virus can persist in contaminated fodder and the environment for up to one month, depending on the temperature and pH conditions.

There are at least seven separate types and many subtypes of the FMD virus. Immunity to one type does not protect an animal against other types.

How It Spreads

FMD viruses can be spread by animals, people, or materials that bring the virus into physical contact with susceptible animals. An outbreak can occur when:

  • People wearing contaminated clothes or footwear or using contaminated equipment pass the virus to susceptible animals.
  • Animals carrying the virus are introduced into susceptible herds
  • Contaminated facilities are used to hold susceptible animals.
  • Contaminated vehicles are used to move susceptible animals.
  • Raw or improperly cooked garbage or food scraps containing infected meat or animal products are fed to susceptible animals.
  • Susceptible animals are exposed to materials such as hay, feedstuffs, hides, or biologics contaminated with the virus.
  • Susceptible animals drink common source contaminated water.
  • A susceptible cow is inseminated by semen from an infected bull


  • Vesicles (blisters) followed by erosions in the mouth or on the feet and the resulting excessive salivating or lameness are the best known signs of the disease. Often blisters may not be observed because they easily rupture, leading to erosions.
  • Some of these other signs may appear in affected animals during an FMD outbreak:
  • Temperatures rise markedly, then usually fall in about 2 to 3 days.
  • Ruptured vesicles discharge either clear or cloudy fluid and leave raw, eroded areas surrounded by ragged fragments of loose tissue.
  • Sticky, foamy, stringy saliva is produced.
  • Consumption of feed is reduced because of painful tongue and mouth lesions.
  • Lameness with reluctance to move is often observed.
  • Abortions often occur.
  • Milk flow of infected cows drops abruptly.
  • Conception rates may be low.
  • Meat animals do not normally regain lost weight for many months. Recovered cows seldom produce milk at their former rates. FMD can lead to myocarditis (inflammation of the muscular walls of the heart) and death, especially in newborn animals.

What You Can Do

You can support U.S. efforts against FMD by:

Watching for excessive salivating, lameness, and other signs of FMD in your herd; and Immediately reporting any unusual or suspicious signs of disease to your veterinarian or to the State or Federal animal disease control officials. If unable to reach your veterinarian please call:

  • the Massachusetts' State Veterinarian's office at 617-626-1791
  • the Federal Veterinarian's office at 508-865-1421.

Your participation is vital. Both the early recognition of disease signs and the prompt notification of veterinary officials are essential if eradication is to be carried out successfully. Your warning may prevent FMD from becoming established in the United States, or, if it does spread, reduce the time and money needed to wipe it out.

For additional information, contact:

USDA, APHIS, Veterinary Services
Emergency Programs
4700 River Road, Unit 41
Riverdale, MD 20737-1231

Current information on animal diseases and suspected outbreaks is also available on the Internet at USDA /APHIS . If you have further questions about foot-and-mouth disease, contact the Division of Animal Health at 617-626-1795.