A director of the USDA’s laboratory that studies and tests for foot and mouth disease has warned that the chances of a US outbreak of the highly contagious livestock virus is ‘quite great’.

David Huxsoll, director of the Plum Island laboratory in New York state said that given the amount of people travelling between the US and Britain it is surprising that a case has not been discovered in the US.

“It’s only through the diligence of the people at the various ports of entry that we’ve been able to keep it out. I’ll have to add also luck,” he said.
The USDA immediately banned all imports of livestock and raw meat from the European Union once cases were discovered in the UK in February. The government also took action to increase inspections of incoming airline passengers.

Huxsoll said, if the virus had reached the US already, signs of the disease would appear quickly – within 24 to 48 hours. 

Last week, representatives of various US departments and agencies, which also included the Federal Emergency Management Agency, conducted a tabletop exercise to test their ability to respond to a worst-case scenario in which the disease broke out in Iowa and spread to three other states. It was concluded that an outbreak would have required 50,000 people, including military personnel, to contain the disease.

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The last case of foot and mouth in the US was discovered in 1929.