Since early March 2001, Great Britain, France and the Netherlands have lost more than a million animals due to a foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak. The eradication effort is far from finished, and the number of affected animals climbs each day. While outbreaks in these countries have received the most publicity, it’s important to know that FMD also has hit at least 33 other countries worldwide since January 2000. Keeping FMD out of the U.S. must become our highest priority!
FMD is especially dangerous and costly, because it strikes all cloven- or split-hooved animals, including goats, sheep, deer, cattle and swine. Within days after exposure to the virus, susceptible animals may develop blisters on the feet, nose, teats and in the mouth. Unable to drink, eat or walk, they lose condition quickly.
To stop the spread of the virus, which can be carried on the wind, exposed and infected animals must be slaughtered and their carcasses burned or buried. A country may spend years and billions of dollars eradicating FMD. Expenses to fight the disease, lost production and trade opportunities, and a massive livestock slaughter can bankrupt the livestock industry and damage a country’s economy.
During an outbreak, allied industries also suffer. Livestock haulers, feed and feedlot companies, livestock shows, slaughter plants, and companies that produce animal care products lose revenue. Costs for goods also can rise, due to a diminished supply of the animal products used in medicines, foods, cosmetics or clothing. Even an affected country’s tourism business can suffer, when quarantines and restrictions are placed on affected areas.
Advice for international travelers & visitors, livestock producers, and allied industries
Follow these precautions if you are planning foreign travel. Ensure that any international visitors you welcome also abide by this agriculturally friendly protocol.
Before traveling to the U.S.
- For at least five days before you travel to the U.S., don’t go around farms, sale barns, zoos, fairs or other sites where livestock are kept. Why? Affected or even exposed animals can expel the virus as they exhale, and being in close proximity, you could breathe it in. Although it’s not a danger to you, the virus can live in your throat and nasal passages for a time.
- Bathe and shower prior to travel. Wear clean clothes that have not been near livestock, wildlife or other animals. Why? Live, airborne FMD virus can contaminate skin, clothing and hair. Bathing and wearing fresh clothing prior to travel lessens the risk of carrying the virus.
- Disinfect before you travel to the U.S.! Tuck a bottle of vinegar and a small cloth in your luggage to wipe down glasses, jewelry, watches, belts, hats, cell phones, hearing aids, camera bags, backpacks and purses before traveling. Why? Vinegar, used full strength, is an effective, but inexpensive disinfectant. Wipe down all items that may have been exposed to airborne FMD virus.
- Scrape away all mud, debris or soil from shoes. Disinfect all shoe surfaces with vinegar. Why? The FMD virus can live in the soil, organic material and mud for an extended period of time. Clean shoes reduce risk.
- If possible, wash or dry clean all clothing, including jackets, before traveling to the U.S., especially if you live on a ranch! If this isn’t practical, clean your clothing as soon as possible when you get home. Don’t re-wear clothes before they are washed or cleaned! Why? Live FMD virus can contaminate clothing. Don’t risk exposing U.S. livestock or wildlife to disease by wearing clothes that haven’t been washed or cleaned. Remember to clean jackets, gloves and scarves!
- Don’t carry food or other prohibited items to the U.S. Why? Aside from being illegal to bring into the country, meat, unpasteurized cheese, and unprocessed hides or animal products can harbor live FMD virus.
Upon arrival in the U.S.
- Make a Customs declaration if you’re carrying food products or have visited a farm or ranch on your trip. Why? Declare food products, and the Customs or USDA official can properly dispose of them. Failure to declare items can result in stiff fines.
- If you’ve been on a ranch or visited a zoo, wildlife park or other site with animals, make a declaration. It takes only a few moments to have the port officials spray your boots to protect against disease.
When you get home…
- Avoid livestock and wildlife at least five days after arriving in the U.S. Why? It takes time for airborne FMD virus to be cleared from your throat and nasal passages. Don’t take chances!
- If you didn’t wash or dry clean clothing before traveling to the U.S., do it immediately upon returning home. Why? Airborne FMD virus could have contaminated your clothing.
- If you live or work on a ranch, wash or dry clean clothing before you get home! Why? Don’t risk carrying the virus to your stock!
Welcoming international visitors to your ranch?
- Provide arriving travelers with a clean set of clothing that can be worn after showering.
- Wash or dry clean your visitors’ clothes immediately.
- Provide shoes, or insist that your visitor wears shoes that have not been worn on a ranch in another country.
- Disinfect visitors’ jewelry, eyeglasses, etc. or do not permit it to enter livestock facilities.
- Never allow meat or animal products from FMD-affected countries on your premise.
- If in doubt, keep them out!