Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

An A.R. Special Report

by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Hollywood, Calif.

LOS ANGELES, May 5, 2001 -- A 1999 study by the University of California=

at Davis obtained by The American Reporter estimates that an outbreak of F= oot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in the state -- which some epidemiologists say = is likely -- could cost California $9.3 billion, and the United States an a= dditional $4.2 billion in lost trade. Those losses would be comparable to = disasters such as the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and the 1992 Los Angeles r= iots -- and billions could be lost in just the first few days, the study sa= ys.

Foot-and-mouth is a highly contagious viral disease that does not affect= humans, but causes severe blistering and open lesions in the mouth and on= the hooves and teats of susceptible animals. Animals stricken by this fore= ign animal disease become lame, lose weight, stop producing milk and become= debilitated. Among the animals affected are cattle, swine, sheep, goats an= d deer; horses are not.

"Javier Ekboir's estimates for the worst case cost of an outbreak in = California are U.S.$9.3 billion to the State plus another U.S.$4.2 billion in l= ost U.S. trade, totaling U.S.$13.5 billion -- referrable to a single state," = said epidemiologist Jack Woodall, one of the world's foremost experts on ep= idemiology and disease containment, in a response to an FMD treatment debat= e posted on the respected ProMED-mail international tropical disease mailin= g list on Friday, May 4.

The disease has not struck the United States since an outbreak in Califo= rnia in 1929, which followed a devastating outbreak in 1924, also in Califo= rnia. The disease was last reported in North America in Canada in 1952 and = in Mexico in 1954. Today, California's Dept. of Agriculturesays FMD remain= s "a threat," and it has undertaken an extensive educationto reach the stat= e's livestock owners. But like any agency faced with anuncertain epidemic t= hat would be an economic nightmare, its resources aredwarfed by the scale o= f the problem.

Quick detection and immediate control of an outbreak are key. "Ekboir= 's results indicate that a few days could make a difference of billions of = dollars in control costs, production losses, and quarantined markets," the = university's Agricultural Issues Center said in a press release that accomp= anied publication of Ekboir's 123-page study in 1999.

The entire study is= available online for free from UC Davis at http://www.aic.ucdavis.edu/pub/= EkboirFMD-part1.pdf. (Adobe Acrobat is required to read the file.) Hard cop= ies are also available from the university.

Meanwhile, Texas officials mo= unted a simulated FMD outbreak last November to test the state's responses = and determine how long the disease can go unnoticed.

"Even one case of foot-and-mouth disease could stop our ability to trade= livestock and livestock products across state lines and internationally," = said Dr. Walter Riggs, area epidemiologist in Texas for the U.S. Department= of Agriculture's Veterinary Services (U.S.DA-APHIS-VS). "Because it is so co= ntagious, and we have so much global trade and travel, this fast-moving dis= ease always poses a threat to North America. It is also an excellent diseas= e for an exercise scenario, as it can affect a wide variety of livestock an= d moves quickly through a population."

Vaccines for the diesease exist, but supplies are extremely limited in = the United States. The disease can spread in the air for up to 40 miles, bu= t is more commonly spread through movement of animals from one place to ano= ther, or on farm equipment, bedding, feed, food items, waste, vehicles, and= on people's shoes, clothes, or other personal effects.

Whether or not the disease, which has devastated British herds since th= e outbreak began in early March, will reach the United States and Californi= a is a matter of speculation. The disease seems to have peaked in the Unite= d Kingdom, officials there say.

"We are in a new phase of the disease no= w," Prime Minister Tony Blair cautiously announced on May 4, after some 2.4= million animals were destroyed in a crisis that even forced postponement o= f national elections. But, Mr. Blair warned, "The battle is not over yet. W= e are getting the disease under control."

It was Britain's worst outbreak since 1967, when 400,000 cattle were d= estroyed; a single case on the Isle of Wight was discovered in 1981. The c= ountry had been deemed free of the disease since 1982 until it seemed to ap= pear everywhere at once in early March.

The presence of the disease can wreak havoc on a nation's economy. When= Ecuador was struck with an outbreak in 1995, it was the world's 12th large= st beef producer; today, it barely rates mention,and it may be years before= it will be deemed free of the disease again. Only animals from disease-fr= ee nations can be imported into the United States and most other Western co= untries.

The mass destruction of herds has also lead to desperate acts. Russian = authorities, for instance, reported that dead cattle with the disease were = "unburied" in another European country and the meat resold in Russia for hu= man consumption. Humans rarely get the disease, and it is not life-threaten= ing when they do. Some 15 cases of suspected human FMD in Great Britain ha= ve been reported, but none were ever confirmed.

Some 33 nations have experienced Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks since = January 2000. But will the disease reach an increasingly vigilant United S= tates, or California? Most experts seem to think it will.

"A recent meet= ing of U.S. federal emergency management officials from a wide array of age= ncies and departments considered the incursion of FMD into the United State= s to be probable instead of possible," said Dr. Tom McGinn, a veterinarian = working on the state's task force against FMD lead by the North Carolina De= pt. of Agriculture,in a posting to ProMED-mail.

And despite industry collaboration and intensive state measures such a= s travel controls, inspections and careful monitoring of herds, Ekboir conc= ludes, "introduction of an exotic disease into California's livestockpopula= tion is a real threat." His study addresses the possible introduction of FN= D and the current state policy of eradication if it hits.

"Under the pres= ent action plan to deal with a FMD outbreak, a stamping-out policy -- the s= laughter of all infected and all exposed animals, plus decontamination of i= nfected and exposed premises -- would be implemented. It is highly likely t= hat, under current regulations and preparations, implementation of such pol= icy would face enormous problems, seriously compromising its chances of suc= cess," Ekboir says.

Experts say the disease will spread quickly throughout the entire United= States if it appears anywhere here, but that may depend in part on how the= disease is fought. Some experts favor allowing the disease to run its cou= rse; others would eradicate entire herds if even a single case is identifie= d.

Ekboir, now with a Mexico City institute, was formerly a post-doctoral f= ellow in the Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Departmen= t of Medicine and Epidemiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the = University of California at Davis, Calif. He conducted his study in coopera= tion with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and with the support o= f the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture and the California Office of= Veterinary Services, U.S.DA-APHIS.

Joe Shea, Editor-in-Chief of the American Reporter, grew up on a cattle = farm in upstate NewYork.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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