Efforts to eradicate food and mouth disease (FMD) in the United Kingdom and across Europe threaten to devastate the livestock industry there. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken extraordinary steps to keep the disease out of this country, but the nature of the pathogen makes it difficult to contain, especially in this day of widespread international commerce and travel.

USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) provides answers to some of the most common questions regarding foot-and-mouth disease.

Q: What is foot-and-mouth disease?
A: FMD is a highly contagious and economically devastating disease of cattle and swine. It also affects sheep, goats, deer and other cloven-hoofed ruminants.

Q: What are the potential economic ramifications of an FMD outbreak in the United States?
A: An FMD outbreak in the United States could potentially cost the U.S. livestock industry billions of dollars in losses in the first year.

Q: Can people get the disease from animals?
A: It is not believed to readily affect humans. The disease has no implications for the human food chain. People can, however, spread the virus to animals because it can remain in human nasal passages for as long as 28 hours.

Q: How do you get rid of FMD?
A: The virus can be killed off by heat, low humidity or some disinfectants. It is only rarely fatal, although it is more likely to kill very young animals. There is no cure for the disease, and it usually runs its course in 2 or 3 weeks with most animals recovering, although some animals take up to 6 months to fully recover.

Q: If most animals don't die, why go to such great lengths to eradicate it?
A: The disease is highly contagious with nearly 100 percent of exposed animals becoming infected. If the disease became widespread there would be disastrous economic consequences.

Q: What is USDA doing to protect the United States from FMD?
A: USDA implemented an interim rule on Feb. 21, prohibiting or restricting the importation of live swine and ruminants and any fresh swine or ruminant meat or products from Great Britain or Northern Ireland. On March 16, USDA extended the rule to include all of the European Union. Ports of entry have been notified to enhance surveillance of travelers coming from Europe.

Q: What should travelers do if they are planning to visit a farm or are in contact with livestock while abroad?
A: All international travelers must state on their Customs declaration form whether or not they have been on a farm or in contact with livestock and if they are bringing any meat or dairy products from their travels back with them. APHIS officials will inspect the baggage of all travelers who indicate they have been on a farm or in contact with livestock. Any soiled footwear must be disinfected with detergent and bleach. If travelers are around livestock in the UK and they have livestock at home in the United States, they should avoid contact with their animals for five days after returning.

Q: Can travelers bring animal products back to the United States from Europe?
A: Any ruminant or swine products, with the exception of hard cheeses and canned products with a shelf life, will be confiscated.

Q: How can farmers support USDA in its efforts to prevent FMD in the United States?
A: Watch for excessive salivating, lameness, and other signs of FMD and immediately report any signs of disease to your veterinarian, State or Federal animal disease control officials, or county agricultural agent.

For more information about FMD, contact: APHIS Emergency Operations Center (800) 940-6524 e-mail: emoc@aphis.usda.gov or see APHIS Web site: www.aphis.usda.gov