Foot-and-mouth disease (in humans, cattle): what is it, virus, vaccine


What is foot-and-mouth disease?

The fever FMD is a disease that affects animals cloven – hoofed animals  (which have two fingers), such as cows, pigs and goats. The disease, which is viral, causes fever and the appearance of vesicles (thrush) mainly in the mouth and feet of the affected animals.

At first, human beings are not affected by the disease, but on very rare occasions it can happen. The disease is extremely contagious among split-hoofed animals, but faces enormous difficulties to affect humans. The symptoms are similar, but weakened and usually subside in five days.

Although animals recover frequently, they can lose a lot of weight and, in the case of cows, for example, milk production can be reduced, making the condition a problem for livestock.

Foot-and-mouth disease can be controlled using a vaccine and recently the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) declared Brazil free of the disease thanks to vaccination.


The disease is caused by seven variations of the virus genus  Aphtovirus  in the family Picornaviridae , the same as that of the human cold virus, the rhinovirus.

The variations are separated into letters:

  • O
  • A
  • C
  • SAT-1
  • SAT-2
  • SAT-3
  • Asia-1.

SAT stands for ” South African Territory ” or “South African Territory” in free translation. The three SATs and Asia-1 are considered exotic in Brazil, as they are characteristic of certain regions on other continents. The variations O, A and C can appear here, with O being the most common.

The disease caused by any of them turns out to be the same.

Foot-and-mouth disease in humans

The transmission of Aphtovirus  to humans is extremely rare. The virus is not adapted to contaminate human cells, so the contact must be extremely large for this to happen.

The consumption of infected meat or milk can cause contamination, but even in these cases it is rare, since the human immune system usually finds it easy to deal with this virus.

Humans are often affected when their immune systems are weakened. However, even the consumption of milk is not a big risk since the virus has difficulty installing itself in people. In addition, milk on the market usually goes through the pasteurization process, which eliminates viruses and bacteria from it.

In general, foot-and-mouth disease is not a risk for humans and, even when it infects them, it passes quickly.

There is a disease with very similar symptoms, but it affects humans. The hand of the disease, foot and mouth  is caused by a different virus and is most common in children.


The pathogen of foot-and-mouth disease is Aphtovirus . It infects the animal’s cells and uses them to reproduce. It is extremely contagious among animals, but it rarely causes deaths.


The animal’s saliva, as well as its blood, contains large amounts of viruses, causing transmission through these two components.

In addition, even after months, the virus can be found in bone marrow, bone meal (used in fertilizers) and leather, even after the animal dies. The virus can survive up to a month without a host.

As saliva is a major viral carrier, the pasture can become contaminated if the animal drools over it, which is normal and even more likely due to canker sores in the mouth, as well as those on the feet, which have a large amount of viruses. The animal’s feces can also contain the virus.

Foot-and-mouth disease is an extremely contagious disease and often affects a large number of individuals in a herd.

For humans, the exposure must be massive. Both the consumption of infected meat or milk, as well as constant contact with the wounds of sick animals, promotes transmission.

However, even in these cases the symptoms are weak and, in most cases, the disease is unable to infect humans. Consuming infected meat or milk will only cause the disease if there are sores in your mouth or throat, as stomach acids kill the virus.


The symptoms of foot-and-mouth disease are more severe in cattle and pigs. Sheep and goats tend to have weak symptoms when contaminated. The following symptoms are characteristic of the disease:

High fever

The high fever starts at the beginning of the infection and disappears in 2 or 3 days. The normal body temperature of a cow is between 37.5ºC and 39.5ºC, while that of sheep is between 39.5ºC and 40.5ºC. The normal temperature of a human is 36.5ºC, which would be considered hypothermic for a pig or cow.

If a cow has a temperature above 40ºC, she has a high fever.

Canker sores

A symptom that gives the disease its name, canker sores are vesicles (small bubbles) that appear mainly in the mouth, nostrils, pharynx and feet of animals, surrounding the hoof. In cows, they can also appear in other parts of the body, such as the udders (udder).

The cover of these thrush is full of viruses and, when they break, they leave a wound on the animal, besides helping to spread the infection by pasture and other animals.

Because of thrush, the animal may feel pain and have difficulty walking and feeding. The result is severe weight loss over time, as well as reduced milk production from cows and goats.

Excessive salivation

The sick animal begins to have high production of saliva, causing drool. This saliva is full of viruses and helps to transmit it to other animals in the pasture.

Foot-and-mouth disease in humans

The symptoms of the disease in humans are similar to those of animals. High fever and thrush arise, and in very rare cases, the throat and lungs can be affected.

The main symptoms of foot-and-mouth disease in humans are:

  • Inflammation of the mouth;
  • Canker sores;
  • Wounds on the skin between the fingers;
  • Short-term high fever;
  • Muscle aches;
  • Headache;
  • Excessive thirst.

When the sores appear on the lungs or throat the condition is more serious and it is important to visit a doctor, but this is very rare.

Hand, foot and mouth disease

This disease is very similar to foot-and-mouth disease in humans, but it is much more common among us. The symptoms are as follows:

  • Fever;
  • Vomiting;
  • Tiredness;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Irritability in young children.

The disease is more common in children, but it can affect adults. After a few days, the skin begins to peel and finally returns to normal.

How is the diagnosis made?

The diagnosis is made through a laboratory exam performed by a veterinarian. For the diagnosis, samples of saliva, blood serum and epithelium are taken, which is the tissue that lines the thrush. In people, the disease usually lasts for 3 to 5 days.

Is there a cure?

Foot-and-mouth disease cures itself. Although it can kill animals, especially when they are very young, it is common for the cure to happen spontaneously 8 to 15 days after the first symptoms appear. Medicines can also be used to facilitate the animal’s recovery and prevent the infection from spreading.

However, the path most taken by farmers who have cattle contaminated by foot-and-mouth disease is not treatment, but sanitary sacrifice.

Infected animals are euthanized to prevent the disease from spreading and the farm’s productivity to be reduced. This is done since, even after curing, the virus can live in the animal’s body and be transmitted to others.

In humans, the virus cycle passes in the course of 3 to 5 days.

What is the treatment?

The treatment of the disease is done through medication to reduce symptoms and clean the environment and wounds. The drugs can be used for wound healing, in addition to cardiac tonics in the case of very weak animals.

Humans may need to cleanse the wounds that appear. Treatment is not specific as cases are rare and weak, but pain and healing medications can be used to relieve symptoms.


For human treatment, the medications used can be focused on relieving symptoms such as pain and wounds.

For pain

  • Paracetamol
  • Dipyrone


  • Dexpanthenol ( Bepantol )

For thrush on mucous membranes

  • Policresuleno ( Albocresil )
  • Neomycin + Bismuth and sodium tartrate ( Bismu-jet )


NEVER  self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained in this website is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.


Even without treatment, the animals are expected to heal within 15 days. Humans can expect complete recovery within 5 days.

Hygiene is used to prevent infections from happening and to prevent the virus from spreading through the herd.



The most serious complication of foot-and-mouth disease is myocarditis, an inflammation of a layer of the heart wall caused by the virus. It is rare and usually affects only weakened animals or young, and can cause heart failure.


Due to canker sores and mouth sores, in addition to the difficulty of locomotion due to wounds on the feet, animals may have difficulties in feeding. This can lead to starvation.

Difficulties to walk

Foot wounds can prevent infected animals from walking. The result of this is that the animal remains stationary for long periods of time.


Open sores caused by thrush can be openings for bacteria that can cause infections in the animal. Therefore, the cleaning of wounds is important.

Permanent reduction in milk production

Milk production in cows may be due to poor nutrition, but it may become permanent in some cases.

How to prevent


In the case of animals, the virus is extremely contagious. Isolating infected animals prevents the disease from spreading to others.

Infected humans do not need to be isolated as the disease does not spread from person to person.


Sacrificing animals is the most common, as the virus can survive outside the body for up to a month and for years in the animal’s bone marrow, even after the symptoms have healed. This prevents healthy animals from being infected.


The most efficient means of preventing foot-and-mouth disease is vaccination. Unnecessary in humans but indispensable in susceptible animals, it is the best way to prevent and eradicate the disease in the country.

Animals under 24 months of age should be vaccinated once every 6 months, while older animals need to be vaccinated once a year.

In Brazil, the government conducts FMD vaccination campaigns every year. Thanks to these efforts, the country was declared in February 2018 as free from foot-and-mouth disease by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The state of Santa Catarina is the only Brazilian state that is considered free of foot-and-mouth disease without vaccination. All others are considered free, but vaccination must continue to prevent the virus from returning.

Common questions

How does vaccination happen?

Twice a year the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply carries out vaccination campaigns against foot-and-mouth disease, which is mandatory. They are usually held in May and November.

Purchasing the vaccine is the responsibility of the cattle owner, who must purchase it at authorized resellers and declare the vaccination to the Ministry of Agriculture within the period set by the state government.

What to do if the disease is suspected?

Notification of any vesicular disease, such as foot-and-mouth disease, is mandatory. If the disease is suspected, the Animal Health Defense Service must be notified. An official veterinarian will inspect the animals and take the necessary steps in case of illness.

You learned about foot and mouth disease and how it works. The disease is considered eradicated in Brazil, but vaccination cannot be stopped, as it prevents the disease from coming back.

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