Despite the U.S. being Foot-and-Mouth Disease free since 1929, researchers with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate have developed a vaccine against one strain of FMD that does not use a live virus to manufacture and that can be used to differentiate an infected animal from an inoculated animal.
Researchers developed the vaccine at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center located near Long Island, N.Y. GenVec Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md., and Antelope Valley Biologics of Lincoln, Neb., assisted in vaccine production.
The disease affects cloven-hooved animals such as cows, sheep, pigs, goats, and deer. It is very contagious and causes fever, blisters on the feet and mouth, loss of appetite, drooling and lameness. If infected with the disease, animals are typically culled and destroyed, as the disease can spread through feed, manure and wind. Meat product scraps may also carry the disease.
Though it has not appeared in the U.S. since 1929, FMD has the potential to reappear, as the U.K. found out in 2001 after 34 years FMD-free. As a result of the 2001 outbreak, more than 10 million animals were destroyed.
Until now, a vaccine has been difficult to create due to the many strains that are incorporated into the disease. U.S. laws also prohibit creation of a traditional vaccine, as live virus cannot be brought into the country for vaccine production. Finally, previous vaccines did not provide an easy way to tell if the animal had been vaccinated.
However, the newly developed vaccine addresses all three of these issues. Plum Island Director Dr. Larry Barrett praised the advancement.
"This is the biggest news in FMD research in the last 50 years," Barrett said. "It's the first licensed FMD vaccine that can be manufactured on the U.S. mainland, and it supports a vaccinate-to-live strategy in FMD outbreak response."
The vaccine has been granted a conditional license for use in cattle by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which means that it may be distributed if an outbreak occurs.
In all, there are seven known serotypes and more than 60 subtypes of the FMD virus, and no universal vaccine to control it. According to the DHS, an FMD outbreak in the United States could cost $50 billion.
Though this important advancement brings hope to livestock producers, DHS Science and Technology Agricultural Defense Branch Chief Michelle Colby said there is more to be done.
"Our work isn’t over yet. This vaccine protects against just one strain of FMD, so this is just the tip of a growing iceberg. DHS has several vaccines for other FMD serotypes ready to enter the licensure process," Colby said.