Foot-and-mouth disease

Alert

Foot-and-mouth disease is prohibited matter under the Biosecurity Act 2014.

FMD outbreaks are common in Asia, the Middle East, South America and parts of Africa. In May 2022, an outbreak of FMD was reported in cattle in Indonesia.

International outbreaks are a reminder that animal diseases can spread quickly and do not respect international borders.

FMD is not present in Australia. In the event of an outbreak early detection and reporting would be critical to rapidly contain this disease.

Under Queensland legislation, if you suspect the presence of this disease in any species of animal, you must report it to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 or contact the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Cause

A picornavirus. There are 7 distinct serotypes of FMD virus: O, A, C, SAT 1, SAT 2, SAT 3 and Asia 1.

Other names

  • FMD

Description

A highly contagious viral infection of domestic and wild cloven-hooved animals (the hooves are divided into 2 parts). Horses are not affected.

Distribution

FMD has not occurred in Australia since 1872. It is found in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America.

Hosts

Cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, camelids, deer, buffalo, elephants

Life cycle

For the purposes of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code, the incubation period is 14 days.

Affected animals

  • cattle
  • sheep
  • pigs
  • goats
  • deer
  • camelids
  • buffalo
  • elephants

Clinical signs

A wide range of signs can occur, ranging from inapparent disease with minimal lesions to severe clinical disease. It is extremely contagious and many animals on a farm may become affected simultaneously.

Clinical signs include:

  • blisters and ulcers in the mouth, feet and teats
  • lameness
  • fever
  • unwillingness to eat
  • excessive salivation
  • abortion
  • drop in milk production
  • sudden death in young animals.

In cattle

  • Cattle may have a high temperature and blisters occur on the feet and in the mouth.
  • Excessive salivation, drooling and lameness are frequently observed.
  • Blisters may also occur on the teats and udder making milking painful.
  • Most diseased animals will recover in about 2 weeks. Mortality is normally less than 5%, but may be high in young animals.

The FMD guide for veterinarians: Clinical signs of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle has more specific information about clinical signs of FMD.

In pigs

  • The main sign is lameness, although this can be masked if the affected animals are on soft ground.
  • Blisters form around the top of the foot, on the heels and between the claws.

The FMD guide for veterinarians: Clinical signs of foot-and-mouth disease in pigs has more specific information about clinical signs of FMD.

In sheep and goats

  • The disease is usually mild with few lesions, though severely affected animals can succumb to sudden, severe lameness affecting one or more feet.

The FMD guide for veterinarians: Clinical signs of foot-and-mouth disease in sheep and goats has more specific information about clinical signs of FMD.

Impacts

FMD is considered one of Australia's greatest biosecurity risks.

An FMD incursion would have severe consequences for Australia's animal health and trade, including considerable economic losses with restrictions being placed on both domestic and international markets.

Even an isolated, rapidly controlled outbreak could cost several billion dollars to eradicate, with serious economic and social effects in other sectors, including tourism.

Impacts would be felt across the live animal export trade, and by exporters of genetic materials, meat and dairy products.

The 2013 ABARES research report (PDF, 1.3MB) estimates that a large multi-state FMD incident could cost Australia more than $52 billion in lost revenue over 10 years.

How it is spread

Transmission method

FMD is one of the most contagious animal diseases. Infected animals excrete the virus in fluid from ruptured blisters, exhaled air, saliva, milk, semen, faeces and urine. Virus transmission can begin before blisters appear.

The primary method of transmission within herds and flocks is by direct contact or via respiratory particles and droplets. Pigs are potent excretors of airborne viruses. Spread of infection between properties and areas is frequently due to movement of infected animals or contaminated vehicles, equipment, people and products. Windborne spread of infected aerosols can occur under the right conditions.

Risk of entry into Australia

Pathways for the introduction of FMD into Australia include importing:

  • contaminated livestock products and by-products, including genetic material
  • contaminated equipment and clothing
  • infected livestock.

Because Australia has strict import conditions in place, the introduction of FMD through the legal importation of these commodities is very unlikely. However, the illegal introduction of contaminated meat and dairy products that could be brought in by passengers on aircraft or ships, or sent through the post, has been demonstrated to be a real and significant pathway.

Feeding or providing susceptible animals access to contaminated materials is the most likely means by which FMD may infect the animal population. Accordingly, the feeding of animal matter or feed that has been contaminated by animal matter (i.e. also known as swill) is illegal in Australia.

Windborne spread to Australia from infected near neighbouring countries, is considered possible but of low likelihood due to the distance and prevailing weather conditions.

Risk period

FMD virus may remain infective in the environment for several weeks to months:

  • in the presence of organic matter, such as soil, manure and dried animal secretions
  • on chemically inert materials, such as straw, hair and leather.

Although the virus is inactivated within 3 days in carcasses that have undergone normal post-slaughter acidification, it can remain viable for months in chilled lymph nodes, bone marrow, viscera and blood clots. The virus have been detected in the milk and semen of experimentally infected cattle for 23 and 56 days, respectively.

Prevention

An outbreak of FMD in Australia is most likely to be caused by food contaminated with FMD virus being illegally imported and fed to pigs.

Preventing these illegal activities is the best way to prevent an outbreak in Australia.

If you know of prohibited feed being fed to pigs, report it to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Livestock owners

  • Only feed fruit, vegetables, grains and commercial livestock feed to pigs. Never feed prohibited feed to pigs as it can introduce FMD and other serious animal diseases.
  • Have a biosecurity plan in place and ensure all workers and visitors are aware of your biosecurity rules.
  • Ensure items and equipment coming on to or going off your farm are clean.
  • Clean and disinfect any equipment shared with other farms.
  • Practice good hygiene—wear clean clothes and footwear when visiting a property.
  • Prevent visitors from having unnecessary indirect or direct contact with your livestock.
  • Prevent contact between farmed and feral pigs.
  • Check you are registered as a biosecurity entity and make sure your contact and registration details are up to date.
  • Ensure you complete all movement requirements when moving livestock.
  • If you suspect the presence of FMD, report it immediately to Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 or the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Read more information about FMD for livestock owners.

Veterinarians

Read more information about FMD for veterinarians.

Monitoring and action

Suspect cases of FMD will be investigated by a veterinary team. Where appropriate, samples of vesicular fluid, epithelial tags and blood will be collected from representative animals and forwarded to the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness at Geelong for diagnostic purposes.

Control

If the disease is detected, it will be contained and eradicated as quickly as possible in order to reinstate Australia's disease-free status for trade purposes. The eradication program will be delivered according to the AUSVETPLAN response strategy for FMD.

Emergency vaccination

Emergency vaccination may, in certain circumstances, be an important part of controlling an FMD outbreak. Australia will consider the potential for emergency vaccination as part of the response strategy from the day an incursion of FMD is detected. Queensland has an FMD vaccination strategy that will assist when deciding whether emergency vaccination should be used during an outbreak.

Restrictions

The following will occur if FMD is detected:

  • immediate assessment of the epidemiological situation
  • rapid recognition and laboratory confirmation of cases
  • strict movement controls, including an immediate livestock standstill
  • implementation of legislated declared areas for disease control purposes including movement controls and surveillance
  • proactive management of animal welfare issues that arise from the disease or the implementation of disease control measures
  • valuation, destruction and sanitary disposal of infected animals and animal products
  • decontamination of facilities, products and things to limit the spread of the virus
  • tracing and surveillance to determine the source and extent of infection (including, as necessary, in feral animals), and to provide proof-of-freedom
  • surveillance and control of feral animal populations, as appropriate. Hunting may be banned in some areas
  • recalling potentially contaminated animal products (including dairy products for animal consumption, etc.), unless considered unnecessary by a risk assessment
  • relief and recovery programs to minimise animal welfare and human socio-economic issues
  • a public information campaign
  • industry engagement to provide technical expertise and improve understanding of the emergency animal disease response process, facilitate cooperation and address animal welfare issues.

Further information