Foot-and-mouth disease: prevention and preparedness

Page last updated: Thursday, 28 July 2022 - 3:53pm

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is one of Australia’s greatest biosecurity risks.

Australia is free of FMD and an outbreak would severely impact Western Australia's access to livestock and livestock product export markets, worth about $2 billion annually.

Australia has detailed FMD response plans in place. Early detection enhances the feasibility of the successful eradication of FMD. Livestock owners should remain vigilant for signs or suspicion of the disease and report them immediately to a veterinarian. The faster an outbreak is detected, the sooner it can be eradicated.

What is foot-and-mouth disease?

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly infectious and contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, goats, buffalo, camels, alpaca, llama and deer. It does not affect non-cloven hoofed animals such as horses, dogs, cats or birds.

It is not the same as hand, foot and mouth disease in people.

Although many affected animals may survive FMD, they take a long time to recover and often do not regain their full productivity. Surviving animals may also become carriers of the virus.

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What are the signs of FMD in animals?

Signs of FMD vary depending on the species infected and the strain of the virus.

Blisters form in the mouth, nostrils, on teats, and on the skin between and above the hoofs of cloven-footed animals. FMD reduces productivity and may result in deaths in young animals.

Clinical signs include:

  • blisters (vesicles) in the mouth, nostrils, teats or on the feet. These blisters are often not obvious until they have ruptured. Blisters in sheep are usually small and difficult to see
  • slobbering/drooling
  • lameness and/or a reluctance to move
  • severe depression
  • lack of appetite
  • sudden death in young animals
  • a large drop in milk yield in dairy animals
  • abortion in pigs.

It is important to note that in sheep the signs are often mild and difficult to detect. Lameness may be one of the only signs.

Animals usually show signs of foot-and-mouth disease within 3–5 days of infection, but signs can take up to 14 days to appear. Infected animals can spread the virus before they show signs of the disease.

Why should I report FMD signs?

The sooner FMD is recognised and reported, the sooner its spread can be controlled.

An ABARES report (in 2013) estimated that over a 10-year period there would be severe direct economic losses to the livestock and meat processing sector from an outbreak of FMD. These losses ranged up to $52 billion over 10 years. An update to this estimate conducted in 2022 found the same large multi-state outbreak would now have a direct economic impact of around $80 billion. Minimising the spread of the disease through early detection and reporting enhances the likelihood of success of the response and reduces the devastating economic and social impacts of an outbreak.

If you see any of the signs of foot-and-mouth disease in cloven-hooved animals, call your vet, your Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development veterinarian, or the Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888.

How would FMD enter Australia?

The most likely way FMD could enter Australia is by the illegal importation of meat and dairy products, which can carry FMD virus.

Pigs are highly susceptible to FMD and can become infected if they eat products carrying the virus. Once infected, pigs produce large quantities of virus, which can spread to other livestock.

To prevent FMD and other serious diseases, it is illegal to feed pigs anything that:

  • Contains meat, meat products, or any other products from mammals.
  • Has had contact with meat, meat products or any other products from mammals.

See the prohibited pig feed page for more information on what and what not to feed pigs.

FMD could also enter Australia by people from infected countries returning with the virus on their footwear or equipment and then having contact with animals. It is endemic in several popular tourist destinations, such as in the south-east Asian region, and it is critical that footwear in particular is thoroughly cleaned prior to leaving these countries.

People who have had contact with farms or livestock in infected countries need to declare this when arriving in Australia and ensure all footwear, clothing and equipment is free of mud and animal manure. They should not have contact with livestock for seven days after arrival. 

If you are bringing in or mailing goods to Australia, be aware of what is permitted entry to Australia. You can do this by checking the website at https://www.agriculture.gov.au/biosecurity-trade/travelling/bringing-mailing-goods. Some foods, animal and plant products can carry pests or diseases that you won’t know are there, so it is important to check and abide by biosecurity import conditions at https://bicon.agriculture.gov.au/BiconWeb4.0.

Contact information

Livestock Biosecurity