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March 24, 2001


State Veterinarian Alerts Hawaii Travelers Going Abroad About Foot & Mouth Disease

Honolulu - The state veterinarian is alerting Hawaii residents traveling abroad to be careful not to bring back the notorious Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD), a highly communicable viral disease of cattle, swine, sheep and other cloven-hoofed animals. Although humans are not susceptible to the disease, they can serve as carriers and it is a growing concern that unsuspecting tourists may spread the disease to non-infected regions. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Foot-and-Mouth disease has not been detected in the U.S.

"As a precaution, anyone who has been to Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Argentina within the past 30 days should stay away from farms, ranches and zoos," said James Foppoli, state veterinarian with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. "Travelers going abroad should also avoid contact with animals or areas where animals have been held for at least five days before returning to Hawaii and should avoid contact with animals for at least five days after returning to Hawaii."

Currently, officials in Great Britain and Northern Ireland are scrambling to contain the disease, which can be spread by the wind, on the wheels of vehicles and on human clothing. The virus may also stay active in the nasal passages of humans up to 28 hours.

Controlling the movement of food, people and their activities related to contact with livestock is important with respect to FMD. Increasing emphasis is being placed on disease surveillance at all international ports, including Hawaii. Due to the worldwide popularity of agri-tourism, which has become an important diversification for many livestock operations, there is an increased risk for entry of foreign diseases via human carriers. Over the past several weeks, USDA and state livestock disease control personnel met with key agencies to insure that an elevated state of alert and associated activities is maintained to preclude the accidental entry of FMD into the U.S. These contacts included Federal Plant Quarantine, U.S. Customs, Immigration, slaughter plants, zoos, foreign waste treatment processors, livestock industry groups, etc.

Precautions that travelers can take include:

  • Laundering or dry clean all clothing, jackets or coats before returning to the U.S.
  • If you have visited a farm abroad, or if you've traveled and live, work or plan to visit a farm in Hawaii, shower, shampoo, and change into clean clothing. Wash or dry clean clothes--don't risk taking the FMD virus home on contaminated clothing.
  • Remove all dirt or organic material from shoes, luggage, personal items, etc. Wipe the items with disinfectant.
  • Don't bring prohibited products home. And declare all food and agricultural material on the U.S. Customs declaration form and the Plant and Animal Declaration Forms, which are distributed prior to landing.
  • Avoid contact with livestock or wildlife for at least five days prior to and five days after returning home.

The HDOA has increased monitoring of pets arriving from European countries. Although dogs and cats from Great Britain are exempt from rabies quarantine, HDOA is bathing dogs and cats arriving from the U.K. as a precaution.

"This disease is particularly feared because it is easily transmitted and terribly debilitating to livestock," said Foppoli. "Although our isolated location protects us somewhat from exposure from infected livestock, human transmission is a factor that should not be underestimated.

"We are also working with the local livestock industry to inform ranchers and farmers on the symptoms of the disease," Foppoli added. "With this particular disease, early detection and eradication is crucial to save the entire industry."

FMD is characterized by fever and blister-like sores on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats and between the hooves. The disease can be confused with several other animal illnesses. Whenever blisters or other typical signs are observed, laboratory tests must be completed to confirm the disease. Many animals recover from FMD, but it causes extreme weakness and severe losses in the production of meat and milk.

FMD has been diagnosed in 34 countries during the past 18 months. The latest outbreaks have occurred in Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Argentina and France. The only continents currently free of the disease are North America, Australia and Antarctica. Most of the affected countries are still battling FMD. Outbreaks disrupt animal industry, including the export of animals and animal products. Once infection is introduced, it is very difficult to prevent the spread to susceptible species, which include all cloven-hooved animals.

Once infected, animals become "virus factories," capable of spreading high numbers of viral particles to other animals and into the environment. Infected swine, in particular, can release millions of viral particles when they exhale. The virus can become airborne and can be breathed in by nearby susceptible animals.

The FMD virus also can be carried in the raw meat, animal products or milk from FMD-exposed or infected animals. The FMD outbreaks in South Africa was started after wastefood containing raw meat scraps was collected from international ships and fed to swine.

More information and updates on FMD can be found on the USDA website at: