During a conversation with ChileCarne, José Naranjo, Veterinary Doctor and international consultant in Animal Health and Public Health, provided an interesting analysis of the impact of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) on countries’ production and exports. FMD is a highly contagious fast-course viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals. In 1981, Chile was officially declared FMD-free without vaccination, after complying with all international health requirements.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) affects mainly swine and related wild ruminants and is characterized by sores in the animals’ mouth and the feet, as well as issues with their reproductive systems. The virus does not affect humans and it belongs to the Picornaviridae family. Currently, there are seven known strains, of which only A and C have been verified in the Americas.

The Animal Health Code of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) established its first official “free of the disease” status recognition for FMD, either with or without vaccination.

According to Naranjo, the virus has a high recovery rate and that is probably why countries are conducting antigenic characterizations of the virus to develop the best vaccines possible when needed. The expert also states that there is no antigenic relationship between the strains, and therefore no cross-immunity, which further complicates the management of the disease. There are 65 virus subtypes, and new variants and mutations are constantly emerging.

A reference laboratory in England has proposed grouping different viruses present in Africa and Asia into seven categories, which constitutes a danger for global livestock farming and the economy in general.

According to Naranjo, “it affects all animals, various species. The disease is spread through the sores of the infected animal and it is extremely contagious. It is transmitted through animal products, particularly fresh infected meat, and there is a significant loss of sick/infected animals.”

In terms of related costs, countries’ exports suffer a huge blow whenever the disease enters their borders. As a result, countries free from FMD without vaccination make every effort to keep the disease away from their territory and population, considering the high impact of its potential economic and social cost.

Some wild animals are more susceptible, namely the African buffalo, which plays a significant role in the epidemiology of the disease, as it creates a state of permanent infection, unlike other species that cause no real impact even though they get infected. Additionally, the disease has the ability to infect four new individuals as well as having a high infection morbidity. Cattle are particularly sensitive to it.

“Furthermore, the virus can survive in milk and dairy products, in the marrow, and in organic matter at low temperatures. It can also live on in feed and in the environment for up to a month to a month and a half,” he concluded.

The Chilean pork industry conducts regular drills to develop strategies and procedures to control a potential national health emergency arising from the presence of the disease in the country.

When talking about this and other diseases that affect Chilean livestock farming, Juan Carlos Domínguez, Executive President of ChileCarne the Chilean Meat Exporters’ Association, underlined that “Chile’s health condition, which is free of many diseases that affect animal production, is a significant strength that has also allowed our exports to grow. Preserving this health asset is critical, and these drills are key to be prepared as a country for the potential entry of a disease that might affect our production.”

The Chilean Agricultural and Livestock Service (SAG) considers preparedness exercises for health contingencies a vital mechanism to test the country’s emergency system, as well as an effective training tool for all personnel and institutions directly and indirectly involved in this type of critical event.[:]