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Foot-and-Mouth Disease: a good offence is the best defence

July 2020

Foot-and-Mouth Disease: a good offence is the best defence

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is always working to minimize and manage the risk of foreign animal diseases to protect Canadian animals and agriculture.

Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) is the most contagious of all animal diseases. It's a viral disease of cattle, sheep and swine. It can also affect goats, deer, bison, and other domestic or wild cloven-hoofed animals. The disease can spread by direct, indirect and airborne transmission.

Every year, government veterinarians from Canada and the United States (US), together with national and international experts, participate in a four-week online FMD Emergency Preparation course. This training focuses on how to identify and control potential outbreaks of the disease in livestock in Canada.

The 2020 edition of the annual virtual course wrapped up at the end of June.

A course tailored for Canada

Canada and the US are currently free of FMD – and that's a good thing, as there is no treatment for the disease. However, being as prepared as possible for a potential outbreak is the best line of defence to control FMD.

The online training is offered by the European Commission for the Control of FMD (EuFMD). A few years ago, CFIA experts worked closely with colleagues from the EuFMD to tailor a Canadian version of that course to include information on preparedness and emergency response to FMD outbreaks in Canada, including disease reporting, diagnostic procedures, outbreak management, and options to be disease free, such as the use of vaccination.

More perspectives, more communication

The collaboration doesn't stop there. Before this year's course, the CFIA teamed up with the Canadian Animal Health Coalition to invite veterinarians in private practice in Canada to participate in the training. This is the first time that invitations were extended to veterinarians outside of government.

"We believe the addition of private practice veterinarians will increase Canada's ability to diagnose an incursion of FMD early, improving our ability to control an outbreak and hopefully shorten the time to return to normal, to the benefit of the entire industry," says Dr. Leah Seabrook, National Training Specialist at the CFIA.

FMD was last reported in Canada in 1952 and cost Canada nearly $1B to control and eradicate. Since that time, there have been many changes in production systems and animals are transported farther. The impact of an outbreak today would be much larger and costlier.

The course was filled to capacity and wrapped up at the end of June. Dr. Carmencita Lake, a veterinarian from CFIA, got a seat: "Communication is key and it is wonderful to be part of a Canada-wide think tank of veterinarians from all aspects of practice. We all shared our thoughts and insights as we learned together how best our nations can prepare for and respond to an FMD emergency."

"Congratulations to the 180 participants who attended and for their many interesting conversations online," says Dr. Jean-Luc Angot, former president of the EuFMD and President of the International Department of the High Council for Food and Agriculture. "The involvement this year of both the public and private sector together has been particularly valuable."

What comes next

FMD remains a significant threat to the Canadian livestock industry.

With national and international collaboration on training and other measures, like biosecurity and import controls, the CFIA and its partners in Canada are well prepared to act quickly and minimize the impact of a possible outbreak.

Learn more about FMD and how the CFIA would respond to an outbreak in Canada.

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