Fièvre Aphteuse

Foot and mouth disease

A long-known disease that remains a serious threat to animal health

Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral infection that is not transmissible to humans. It remains one of the main concerns of livestock farmers and health authorities, due to its potentially huge socio-economic impact. Below is a detailed review of ANSES’s work on FMD.

Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a viral animal infection that is not transmissible to humans. It is highly contagious among all cloven-hoofed animals, whether domesticated species such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, or wild species such as deer, antelopes and llamas. Although the disease has been circulating for a long time, it remains of major concern to livestock farmers and health authorities. It can have a huge socio-economic impact, particularly in the agricultural sector.

Due to the financial losses incurred, FMD is still considered a major disease with respect to production and international trade in foodstuffs of animal origin, food safety and economic development, affecting both small- and large-scale production.

The disease

The causal agent of FMD is a virus belonging to the family Picornaviridae. There are seven types of virus, differentiated on the basis of immunological and genetic factors. Each one has several subtypes.

FMD spreads directly from animal to animal or through indirect contact, which includes contaminated equipment, animal products or human movement from an infected area to a virus-free area. The virus can also be carried by the wind over very long distances from an infected farm.

The infection lodges in the respiratory tract. The average incubation period varies from two to seven days.

The disease causes lesions in the form of blisters in and around the mouth, between and above the hooves, on teats and wherever there is a pressure point on the skin. The most common symptoms are fever, listlessness, excessive salivation, loss of appetite and weight, and a drop in milk production.

Epidemiological status

FMD is endemic, i.e. it circulates persistently and constantly in most of Africa and the Middle East, in addition to some parts of Asia and South America. Disease-free countries are not immune to incursions of the disease from neighbouring or even distant infected countries. An example is the reappearance of foot and mouth disease in Europe in 2001, which was particularly severe in the United Kingdom and one of the most devastating examples in history. In the same year, two outbreaks were declared in France, leading to the slaughter of nearly 50,000 animals and major economic repercussions.

In the face of this threat, an international control strategy was initiated in 2009 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), as part of the "Global Framework for the Progressive Control of Transboundary Animal Diseases" signed by the two partners in 2004. This global control strategy against foot-and-mouth disease is regarded as an international priority.

ANSES’s role

The Maisons-Alfort Laboratory for Animal Health conducts reference activities and expert appraisals on FMD.

It also carries out high-quality research, in conjunction with other organisations, that has been accredited by the French Ministry of Research.

It has dedicated containment facilities that comply with the biosecurity standards of both the WOAH and the European Commission (EuFMD). These are fitted out with the necessary scientific equipment.

National Reference Laboratory for FMD and other vesicular diseases such as swine vesicular disease and vesicular stomatitis

The Maisons-Alfort Laboratory for Animal Health's role under this mandate:

  • It diagnoses FMD – particularly emergency diagnosis in the event of suspicion, conducts expert appraisals and implements scientific and epidemiological surveillance programmes. It has an early-warning unit that is operational around the clock. Analyses of the ability to mobilise resources in the event of a crisis are carried out using various modelling systems.
  • It provides scientific and technical support on the control of FMD and conducts research to improve detection and characterisation of the causal virus.
  • It coordinates a network of five departmental laboratories that are accredited for serological diagnosis. In the event of a major health crisis, FMD serological analyses can be decentralised to these laboratories.
  • Its expertise is also called upon during drills conducted every year in France.

Research on the FMD virus includes joint projects with European and international laboratories with the aim of improving risk prevention and health crisis management by developing new vaccine approaches in partnership.

Reference mandate of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH)

Since 2015, the Maisons-Alfort Laboratory for Animal Health has held the reference mandate of the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH)

Under this mandate, ANSES is required to:

  • use, promote and disseminate diagnostic methods that have been validated according to the WOAH's standards to other laboratories on an international scale;
  • develop reference materials as specified by the WOAH, and implement and promote the application of WOAH standards;
  • store biological reference products and any other reagents used for diagnosis and control of FMD, and distribute them to the national laboratories of the WOAH member states;
  • develop, standardise and validate according to WOAH standards new FMD diagnosis and control methods;
  • provide diagnostic services and, if necessary, offer scientific and technical advice on control measures to WOAH member states;
  • collect, process, analyse, publish and distribute relevant epidemiological data on foot-and-mouth disease;
  • establish and coordinate a network with the other WOAH reference laboratories for FMD, and organise regular inter-laboratory trials to ensure comparability of results.

European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) mandate for foot-and-mouth disease

Through its Maisons-Alfort Laboratory for Animal Health and in association with the Belgian Veterinary and Agrochemical Research Centre (Sciensano), ANSES has also been appointed  European Union Reference Laboratory (EURL) for foot-and-mouth disease, with effect from 1 January 2019. This new European mandate will give the laboratory a powerful presence in the international arena (Asia, Africa and potentially Latin America).

Reference Centre of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) for foot-and-mouth disease and vesicular diseases

Lastly, the Maisons-Alfort Laboratory for Animal Health has been appointed Reference Centre of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) for foot-and-mouth disease and vesicular diseases.

Two of the scientists at the Laboratory for Animal Health are members of the EuFMD research group and take part in technical support and training programmes for countries in Africa (including the Maghreb) and Asia. The laboratory hosts French and foreign students and interns for training on diagnostic methods.