Foot-and-mouth disease: prevention and preparedness

Page last updated: Friday, 23 September 2022 - 12:45pm

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.

Register to receive updates

Email updates are being sent to livestock stakeholders in WA regarding foot-and-mouth disease, if you would like to receive these, please register here.

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.

How does FMD spread?

FMD is highly contagious. The virus is present in large amounts in the blisters, saliva, urine, manure, milk and breath of infected animals.

The virus spreads between animals by:

  • direct contact with an infected animal
  • air-borne particles from infected animals
  • movement of infected animals
  • movement of contaminated animal products (such as wool or manure), vehicles, equipment and people.

The virus can remain viable in the environment for several weeks. Low humidity, high temperatures and acidic soils help to inactivate the virus. Virus particles can remain in people’s noses for up to 24-28 hours.

Protect your livestock from FMD

To reduce the risk of FMD occurring in your animals:

  • Do not feed pigs anything that contains or has had contact with meat, meat products or other products from mammals.
  • Prevent feral pigs from accessing your property, or if not practicable, at lease prevent them from accessing on-property disposal sites. Ensure visitors who have had contact with animals in infected countries wear clean clothes and footwear and do not contact Australian livestock for 7 days.
  • If staff are travelling internationally to countries that have diseases such as FMD, businesses should implement biosecurity protocols to ensure staff that have had contact with livestock in these countries do not work with at risk livestock for 7 days after their return.

Other standard biosecurity practices that will help to prevent the introduction of many other diseases, as well as foot-and-mouth disease, include:

  • isolate new animals for 7–10 days
  • keep fences secure to ensure stray animals do not enter
  • have an allocated area away from livestock where contractors/farm visitors park
  • after visiting another farm, clean and disinfect vehicles and footwear and preferably change outer clothes before having contact with your own animals.

Protect your industry by reporting signs of disease early. If you see any signs of FMD:

Good biosecurity practices and early detection are essential to prepare for and reduce the potential impact of FMD and other significant diseases. Producers are urged to exercise vigilance on farm, including being aware of the clinical signs of FMD and reviewing on-farm biosecurity plans.

The Department provides useful biosecurity checklists for livestock producers. See the webpages: Farm biosecurity checklist for sheep producersKeep pigs healthy - follow the biosecurity checklist. The Farmbiosecurity website has a range of biosecurity planning resources to help you prepare an on-farm biosecurity plan as well as preparing your business to survive an emergency animal disease outbreak.

Register your property and meet stock identification and movement requirements

Western Australia has a mandatory livestock ownership, identification and movement system.

If an outbreak occurred, traceability of infected or exposed livestock would be critical for Australia to control and eradicate the disease.

Livestock owners should visit our Livestock ownership, identification and movement in Western Australia webpage to learn more about how to meet these requirements.

Learn more about FMD

For more information about the signs of FMD or FMD prevention, contact your local Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development veterinarian

Australia’s Veterinary Emergency Plan (AUSVETPLAN) contains the nationally agreed approach for the response to an outbreak of FMD in Australia.

Also refer to the Emergency Animal Diseases Hub for FMD and lumpy skin diseases, which provides further information and useful resources. 

 

Contact information

Livestock Biosecurity