Travelers to Europe are not likely to bring home the viruses that cause foot-and-mouth disease in cattle.
“Although the viruses that cause the cattle disease can live for up to two weeks on clothing, tourists won't be allowed in areas of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and France where the disease has been reported,” said Dr. Leon Potgieter with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee.
But the virus, which doesn't affect humans or horses, can also travel in some smoked meats, un-pasteurized cheese and farm equipment.
A U.S. ban on beef from the European Union was already in effect when the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease occurred because of the fear of the so-called “mad-cow” disease, which is also occurring in Great Britain.
Great Britain has ordered the slaughter of more than 100,000 cattle in order to curb the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.
Sarel van Amstel, also with the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, said if the virus were to break out in the United States, it could cost the American cattle industry $40 billion.
“It's a political and economic disease,” said Potgieter, who was in the African nation of Swaziland during an outbreak. “The disease causes blisters on the feet and in the mouths of livestock. From a distance, infected animals appear lame and are salivating heavily.”
Because the animals can't eat, they lose weight instead of growing. Because cows' udders are sore, they may not nurse their calves. “An outbreak would set the cattle industry back a year,” Potgieter said. “And it spreads like wildfire.”
Only one percent of cattle die from the disease, but they remain weakened and secondary infections can occur.
The last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United States was in 1929, although Canada had an outbreak in 1951 and Mexico had an outbreak in the 1960s.
The cause of the British outbreak is not known, but an outbreak in South Africa was traced to garbage from a ship from the Far East.
In addition to cattle, sheep, pigs and goats, other animals susceptible to the disease include deer, elk and rats. Zoo animals, including elephants, can also contract the disease.