The recent foot and mouth disease epidemic that has affected livestock in Europe poses virtually no threat to humans. The virus cannot pass easily from animals to humans, and cannot be transmitted through an animal's milk or meat.
The disease causes fever, sores in the animal's mouth and blister-like sores in the hooves. As a result, animals eat less, lose weight and produce less milk while they have the disease and are recovering from it. Foot and mouth disease usually lasts about two weeks and it may take up to a month for animals to return to their normal weight and level of milk production.
It is highly contagious among the animals it affects, primarily cattle and pigs, although it also affects sheep, wild deer and other cloven-hoofed animals. Infection in humans is extremely rare, although people can spread the virus from animal to animal.
Foot and mouth disease, which affects livestock, is often confused with hand, foot and mouth disease, which affects humans. In fact, the two are completely different diseases and are caused by two different viruses, although their symptoms are similar.
Hand, foot and mouth disease is common in infants and children. Symptoms include fever, sores in the mouth, and body rash with blisters, particularly on the hands and feet. The disease is usually not serious and most people recover from it with little or no medical treatment. The virus usually runs its course in two weeks, and treatment is focused on the symptoms, i.e., soothing the child's throat.
Hand, foot and mouth disease is commonly spread via throat and nasal mucous, but it can also be spread by contact with fluid in the body and throat sores. The best protection against hand, foot and mouth disease is proper handwashing.