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Quantitative Risk Assessment of FMD Virus Transmission via Water


*Address correspondence to Jack Schijven, Microbiological Laboratory for Health Protection, National Institute for Health and The Environment, PO Box 1, 3720 BA Bilthoven, the Netherlands.


Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a viral disease of domesticated and wild cloven-hoofed animals. FMD virus is known to spread by direct contact between infected and susceptible animals, by animal products such as meat and milk, by the airborne route, and mechanical transfer on people, wild animals, birds, and by vehicles. During the outbreak of 2001 in the Netherlands, milk from dairy cattle was illegally discharged into the sewerage as a consequence of transport prohibition. This may lead to contaminated discharges of biologically treated and raw sewage in surface water that is given to cattle to drink. The objective of the present study was to assess the probability of infecting dairy cows that were drinking FMD virus contaminated surface water due to illegal discharges of contaminated milk. So, the following data were collected from literature: FMD virus inactivation in aqueous environments, FMD virus concentrations in milk, dilution in sewage water, virus removal by sewage treatment, dilution in surface water, water consumption of cows, size of a herd in a meadow, and dose-response data for ingested FMD virus by cattle. In the case of 1.6 × 102 FMD virus per milliliter in milk and discharge of treated sewage in surface water, the probability of infecting a herd of cows was estimated to be 3.3 × 10−7 to 8.5 × 10−5, dependent on dilution in the receiving surface water. In the case of discharge of raw sewage, all probabilities of infection were 100 times higher. In the case of little dilution in small rivers, the high level of 8.5 × 10−3 is reached. For 104 times higher FMD virus concentrations in milk, the probabilities of infecting a herd of cows are high in the case of discharge of treated sewage (3.3 × 10−3 to 5.7 × 10−1) and very high in the case of discharge of raw sewage (0.28–1.0). It can be concluded that illegal and uncontrolled discharges of contaminated milk into the sewerage system may lead to high risks to other cattle farms at 6–50 km distance of the location of discharge within one day. This clearly underlines current measures that prohibit such discharges, and also asks for strict control. This risk assessment clearly demonstrated the potential significance of FMD virus transmission via water, and the results will be useful on an international scale, and could also serve as a basis for other FMD risk-assessment models.