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Foot and mouth disease: the human consequences

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 10 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:565

The health consequences are slight, the economic ones huge

  1. Henry Prempeh, specialist registrar public health medicine,
  2. Robert Smith (, clinical scientist (zoonoses),
  3. Berit Müller, epidemiologist
  1. PHLS Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, London NW9 5EQ

    The current major outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) is the latest in a series of disasters that are putting British agriculture under stress.1 The disease affects all cloven-hoofed animals and is the most contagious of animal diseases. It is caused by a virus of the family Picornaviridae, genus Aphthovirus, of which there are seven serotypes (O, A, C, SAT1, SAT2, SAT3, and Asia1). The current outbreak in the United Kingdom is due to the highly virulent pan-Asiatic serotype O.1 In animals the disease presents with acute fever, followed by the development of blisters chiefly in the mouth and on the feet. Infected animals secrete numerous virus particles before clinical signs appear.2

    Foot and mouth disease is a zoonosis, a disease transmissible to humans, but it crosses the species barrier with difficulty and with little effect. Given the high incidence of the disease in animals, both in the past and in more recent outbreaks worldwide, its occurrence in man is rare3 so experience of the human infection is limited. The last human case reported in Britain occurred in 1966, during the last epidemic of foot and mouth disease.4 The circumstances in which it …

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