Foot-and-mouth disease poses a threat to the United States becauseof the high volume of traffic between Europe and the United States,says a University of Georgia expert.The latest outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease began in mid-Februaryand threatens much of Europe. The disease rarely harms humans,but humans can transport the disease.Because of this, the European outbreak has been the cause of greatconcern in the United States, said Ronnie Silcox, an ExtensionService animal scientist with the UGA College of Agriculturaland Environmental Sciences.Foot-and-mouth disease has been a problem in many parts of theworld for many years, Silcox said. Outbreaks have been reportedin South America, Asia and Africa. Because the outbreaks werein less developed parts of the world, though, the spread of thedisease was limited.The United States has not had a case of foot-and-mouth diseasesince 1929.Disease Harsh, Not Fatal But the disease is highly contagious. It affects any cloven-footedanimal. The greatest economic threat comes from infected livestock,such as cattle, hogs and sheep.Initially, the disease has a harsh effect on the animal. It runsa high temperature and develops blisters around the mouth andtongue and on the hooves, Silcox said. The animal doesn’t eatbecause of the blisters in the mouth.”The big thing you’d see with this disease is that the animalwill lose weight,” Silcox said. “And in dairy cattle,milk production drops tremendously. It can take several monthsfor the animal to regain the weight.The dairy cattle may never return to production levels reached before the disease, Silcox said. Foot-and-mouth disease isn’t normally fatal, but it can causedeath in very young animals. The disease usually runs its coursein two to three weeks, Silcox said.When an animal becomes infected, though, it runs a higher riskof catching another illness, he said. Female animals also havea higher risk of abortions.Though the disease is highly contagious, the virus that causesit is fragile, Silcox said. It can’t stand a range of conditions.Heat, for instance, easily kills the virus.Strict Regulations “It would be a terrible disease if it got started in theUnited States because it has such a serious impact on the livestock,”Silcox said. “Because of this, regulations on imports andthe handling of products from countries with confirmed cases havebeen in place in the United States for years. We’re pretty carefulabout what we bring into the country.”To protect the United States from this latest outbreak of foot-and-mouthdisease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has banned importsof farm products from Europe that may transmit the disease. Securityhas also been heightened on travelers and cargo coming from Europe.”If you’re doing any international traveling,” Silcoxsaid, “don’t bring any agricultural products into the country.”For further information on foot-and-mouth disease, call the USDAat 1-800-601-9327. Or check the Internet at (www.aphis.usda.gov).