A new study shows cattle with foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) are only infectious for about half as long as previously thought. This suggests the control measures used to stop the disease from spreading, primarily mass depopulation, could be reduced.

The report appeared in the May 6 issue of the journal Science. A team of scientists conducted the FMD study at the University of Edinburgh (UE) and Pirbright Laboratory, both in the United Kingdom.

Researchers found even if the FMD virus can be detected in a cow’s blood sample, it doesn’t necessarily mean the animal is infectious. Their work showed cattle are infectious only for 1.7 days. After that period, immune responses kick in and limit virus replication. The study showed clinical signs of FMD seem to coincide with infectiousness.

UE’s Mark Woolhouse said if infected cattle are detected and removed from the herd promptly, there might not be a need for pre-emptive culling in areas adjacent to an infected premise. The research team now is calling for the development of practical tools that could be used to diagnose FMD in the field before clinical signs appear.

Researchers believe airborne sampling might be one way to detect the virus before a clinical diagnosis is possible. The other option is regular testing of milk.

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