The quick answer is no, for one simple reason: Statistically speaking, no disease with multiple hyphens has ever really caught on in this country. In terms of your own health, unless you have a cloven hoof or two (or three, or four) you don't have much cause for concern. It is possible, though rare, for humans to come down with FMD, but even then it usually goes away on its own without treatment or discomfort. If you want to be concerned about anything, it's carrying FMD back into the United States from a country experiencing an outbreak. You're a pretty good carrier of the virus, according to the USDA: It can hitch a ride into the country on your clothing, personal items, or by hanging around your throat and nasal passages (www.usda.gov).
The USDA is bent on educating consumers about FMD in order to keep the malady out of this country. As of March 31 of this year, there were no cases of the disease in the U.S., and the last time it was diagnosed in this country was in 1929. By the way, FMD shouldn't be confused with HMD, or â€œhand, foot, and mouth disease,â€? a common childhood complaint. So what's to worry about?
OK, if you're a travel agent you might have some cause for concern â€” FMD could put a crimp in a lot of vacation plans. Take a look at some of the Center for Disease Control's recommendations for travelers entering the U.S. from countries reporting outbreaks of FMD (www.cdc.gov):
Stay away from farms, sale barns, stockyards, zoos, fairs, or other facilities with animals for five days prior to arriving in the U.S. Kids hate farms, zoos, fairs, and circuses anyway, right? Actually, it is possible to see some animals without fear: According to the Tourism Industries' 1999 Profile of U.S. Resident Travelers Visiting Overseas Destinations, the median number of nights such travelers spent outside the U.S. was 10 (http://tinet.ita.doc.gov). So as long as you squeeze that visit to the zoo within the first few days of your trip, and immediately clean your belongings, you'll be able to relax. And who doesn't like to relax with a load of laundry while on vacation?
Launder or dry-clean all clothing and outerwear. Clean all dirt and soil from shoes and then wipe down with a cloth that has been dampened with a bleach solution. While you're at it, clean everything else you're carrying with a bleach-dampened cloth. Even Prince Charles, when he lands on this continent, will be disinfected â€” the kind of treatment usually reserved for Madonna.
What's more, the USDA has severely restricted the types of souvenirs, gifts, and mementos you're allowed to bring back to the U.S. from FMDland. No-no's include the ever-popular â€œruminant or swine embryosâ€? as well as those perennial stocking-stuffers, â€œfresh (chilled or frozen) organs, glands, extracts, or secretions derived from ruminants or swine.â€?
Now you'd think that mad cow disease, a malady that not only strikes us humans but is bereft of hyphenation, might be something to worry about. (OK, so technically it's Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE.) Yet a January 2001 Washington Post/Associated Press poll revealed that 56 percent of respondents were either â€œnot too concernedâ€? or â€œnot at all concernedâ€? about mad cow disease becoming a problem in this country. And fully 90 percent reported that they eat beef. Could it be that everyone is well-read enough to know that import feed restrictions have made it almost impossible to accidentally bring the disease to the U.S.? Like FMD, to date there hasn't been a single confirmed case of mad cow disease here, despite a surveillance program dating back more than 10 years. You could always seize on the word â€œaccidentallyâ€? and start worrying about mad cow terrorism.
If you want to keep abreast of the latest animal health issues around the world, you can always check out the Web site for the world organization for animal health, the Office International des Epizooties (www.oie.int). The name itself sounds like an animal disease, but epizootic refers to an epidemic among animals of a single kind within a particular region. At this site you can get updates on mad cow, FMD, and read up on some animal diseases you never knew existed, like Lumpy skin disease and Rinderpest.
Rest easy, though: There's no cause for anxiety about foot-and-mouth disease â€” at least, not until Oprah decides there is. But if you just like being paranoid, drop by the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service and read through its press releases (www.fsis.usda.gov/OA/news/newsrls.htm): â€œCalifornia Firm Recalls Burritos for Possible Contamination with Ammonia;â€? â€œNew Jersey Firm Recalls Sausage Product for Possible Salmonella Contamination;â€? and my favorite, â€œOhio Firm Recalls Soup for Possible Contamination with Metal.â€?
And for something actually frightening, consider this: On April 7, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations informed the secretary-general that Iraq would be rebuilding a laboratory destroyed by U.N. inspectors, in order to manufacture a vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease. Yeah, sure. Remember anthrax?