Foot-and-mouth disease

Alert

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

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 Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is an exotic disease that does not occur in Australia. Under Queensland legislation all suspect cases must be reported to Biosecurity Queensland.

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

Symptoms

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.

In cattle

  • Cattle may have a high temperature and vesicles (blisters) occur on the feet and in the mouth.
  • Excessive salivation, drooling and lameness are frequently observed.
  • Vesicles 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.

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.

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.

Impacts

An outbreak of this disease in Australia could have serious and prolonged social and economic impacts:

  • Sheep, wool, beef, pork and dairy industries, the agricultural service sector and agri-business would be adversely impacted and access to major export markets would be lost for several years.
  • Businesses along the supply chain, including equipment suppliers, feed suppliers and livestock transporters would also be affected due to the impact on their customers in the affected animal industries.
  • Other industry sectors including tourism, food and hospitality sectors would also be affected.

A recent ABARES report 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 start 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

The most significant risk of entry of FMD into Australia is through illegal entry of meat and dairy products. The risk of FMD virus-contaminated animal products being imported illegally has been acknowledged for some time. The virus can survive for long periods in a variety of fresh, partly cooked, cured and smoked meat products, and dairy products that are inadequately heat treated. These could be brought in by passengers on aircraft or ships, or be sent through the post.

Feeding such material to susceptible animals is the most likely means by which the disease may enter the animal population. Accordingly, the feeding of animal matter or feed that has been contaminated by animal matter (swill feeding) is illegal in Australia. Though producer awareness and the introduction of substantial fines has reduced the risk of FMD virus being introduced into the livestock population, the threat posed by illegal swill feeding still remains.

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 survive for months in chilled lymph nodes, bone marrow, viscera and blood clots. Viruses have been detected in the milk and semen of experimentally infected cattle for 23 and 56 days, respectively.

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 Animal Health Laboratory 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 for FMD.

Vaccination

Vaccination may, in certain circumstances, be an important component in controlling an FMD outbreak. Australia will consider the potential role of vaccination as part of the response strategy from the day an incursion of FMD is detected. Australia will prepare as though vaccination will be used in the event of an FMD incursion, to allow adequate preparatory measures to be put in place. Queensland has a vaccination strategy that will assist in decision making for use, or not, of emergency vaccine during an outbreak.

Restrictions

The following will occur if FMD is detected:

  • strict movement restrictions
  • 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 identify infected and in-contact animals
  • defining infected and disease-free areas
  • a public awareness campaign
  • assessment of wild animal reservoirs and their effect on the eradication process.

Further information