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Strict standards help U.S. livestock avoid disease

By By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
March 15, 2001
The foot-and-mouth disease plaguing livestock in Great Britain and Europe is a prime example of why testing and strict standards are required in the United States.
Roy Higdon, county agent of Clarke County, worked as a livestock inspector from 1980 through 1990. Foot-and-mouth disease  which targets hoofed animals hasn't been found in Mississippi since the 1920s, but Higdon said other illnesses can also infect livestock.
And, he added, foot-and-mouth could be spread into the United States if precautions are not taken.
The disease enters the body through the nose, tear ducts and eyes. Higdon said the incubation period is from two days to 21 days, but it usually shows up in 36 hours. By then, it might be too late to save a herd, but quarantine measures could keep it from spreading.
The disease can infect cows, hogs and sheep. While it may not kill the animal, there is a dramatic weight loss, and the animal will probably never be the same, Higdon said.
He added that the climate of the southeastern region of the United States is also a natural defense against foot-and-mouth.
While foot-and-mouth isn't a problem in this country, Higdon said ranchers and farmers must remain vigilant.
A graduate of Mississippi State University, Higdon worked for the Mississippi Board of Animal Health in the Brucellois (Bangs disease) Program for 10 years.
Records are kept on livestock animals in this country, and if one turns up sick, it's easy to figure out where he came from. The animals have a tag in their ear that records vaccinations and from which farm the animal came.
With that information, the farm would be quarantined that day. Nothing could be moved on or off that farm from that point until the quarantine had been lifted.
Higdon can testify that being a livestock inspector is no easy job. Cattlemen have their livelihoods tied up in these herds and a bad report could ruin them.
But keeping the nation's food supply disease free is the goal, he added. And strict inspections insure that the proper vaccinations and treatments are followed.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.

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