About foot-and-mouth disease

Find out why it's important to keep foot-and-mouth disease out of New Zealand and learn to recognise the signs and symptoms.


What animals does it affect?

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is caused by a virus that only infects cloven-hooved animals. An animal is cloven-hooved if its foot is divided in two. In New Zealand this includes cows, pigs, sheep, goats, deer, alpaca and llama. The disease doesn't affect other animals, such as rodents, cats, dogs, birds or horses.

FMD is an animal health disease. It has no significant health impacts on humans. Even though it has a similar name, it is completely different from the human condition, 'hand, foot and mouth disease'.

Why is the disease a problem?

FMD spreads quickly and before infected animals show symptoms. Many farms could be infected by FMD before we find the first case in New Zealand.

An outbreak of FMD would have a major impact on susceptible animals, our primary industries and the economy because:

  • it reduces agricultural productivity
  • it can be very painful for infected animals
  • all trade in animal products would be stopped and rural businesses (such as farms, farm contractors, animal processors, and transporters) would be affected
  • it would severely impact exports of dairy, red meat and pork products for months or even years after the outbreak, as we would no longer be regarded as FMD-free by trading countries.

Economic impact of FMD on New Zealand [PDF, 840 KB]

Early detection is vital

Early detection of FMD would be vital so we can respond quickly, eradicate the disease as soon as possible, and resume trade in animal products. We would all have a role to play in helping New Zealand recover from an FMD outbreak.

It's easy to spread, harder to stop

FMD is highly contagious and can be spread:

  • through direct contact between infected and susceptible animals
  • when infected meat is fed to susceptible animals
  • by objects or people that come into contact with infected animals
  • by wind or water – particularly from infected piggeries. The wind can carry the virus up to several hundred kilometres.

Infected animals can spread the virus through:

  • breath and saliva
  • meat and milk
  • manure or other waste products
  • semen or blood
  • contamination of mud or soil by hooves.

The virus can survive several months without a host (for example, in soil) under favourable conditions.

Disinfectants can kill the virus on objects

Cleaning and applying an approved disinfectant kills the virus on objects such as footwear, vehicles, clothing and farm equipment. For disinfection to be effective, it's important that items are cleaned first.

How FMD could get into NZ

The foot-and-mouth virus usually enters a country through contaminated animal products (such as ham, salami or waste containing meat products), which are then fed to susceptible animals such as pigs. Infected pigs produce large amounts of the virus and are important in the spread of FMD – through direct contact with other susceptible animals, or by wind. In New Zealand, it's illegal to feed pigs untreated meat or waste that might have contacted raw meat. These products must be cooked for at least an hour at 100 degrees Celsius.

New Zealand doesn't accept animal products from countries with foot-and-mouth disease and we have strict controls for imported animal products. However, it's possible that the virus could get in through illegally imported animal products.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms are not unique to foot-and-mouth disease but if you see animals showing signs, you should immediately call your vet or MPI's pest and disease hotline – 0800 80 99 66.

Symptoms

  • High fever for 2 or 3 days.
  • Blisters or sores around the mouth, muzzle, feet and teats.
  • Drooling, tooth grinding and chomping.
  • Lameness (limping) or a tendency to lie down (pigs may also squeal when walking).
  • Shivering or raised temperature.
  • Lethargy or depression.
  • Drop in milk yield for cows.
  • Death of young animals.

Pictures to help you identify symptoms

Infected animals are affected differently and may not show all the symptoms.

Note, these pictures have graphic content that may upset some people.

Find out more

Who to contact

If you suspect FMD, call your local vet immediately – they will contact MPI's pest and disease hotline. If a vet isn't available, contact our hotline directly on 0800 80 99 66.

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