As of May 6, 2022, Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) has been confirmed in Indonesia.
Unlike lumpy skin disease (LSD), which is spread by biting insects, FMD is spread through the movement of animals, people, and contaminated things. It can also be spread on the wind (but not as far as LSD).
It affects animals with cloven hooves - horses are okay, but two-toed species like sheep, cows and pigs are not.
At the risk of coming across as an animal health alarmist, and folks, this is the big one.
FMD is the worst emergency animal disease that could occur in Australia.
The virus is incredibly contagious, with many of the same features that have made the spread of COVID-19 devastating.
The latent period is extremely short, i.e., animals shed the virus and infect others 1.5 days after their own infection - even before the onset of clinical signs.
In comparison, the latent period of COVID-19 is an estimated 5.5 days. The virus mutates rapidly.
An outbreak would have devastating economic impacts.
According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, Australia exports 72 per cent of agricultural production.
Markets would shut overnight. Current estimates place the direct economic impact of FMD at around $80 billion in the case of a large multi-state outbreak.
However, this doesn't include the social costs of FMD.
Our regional areas rest directly on the shoulders of animal agriculture.
Farmers don't just offer value through employment - they purchase goods, hire contractors, rely on service providers, and hold communities together.
The key to dealing with an FMD epidemic is immediate detection.
The first case in the UK 2001 outbreak occurred when a farmer fed untreated swill (catering waste or kitchen scraps) to his pigs.
He then did not report the disease - despite obvious signs in 90pc of his animals which began on February 12.
By the time FMD was first confirmed at an abattoir on February 20, an estimated 57 premises across the British Isles were already infected.
By the time of the national movement ban on February 23, a further 36 premises were gone.
At this point, an efficient response was near-impossible. Over 2000 farms were infected, and more than 4.5 million animals were destroyed over the seven-month outbreak.
Now, compare this to the UK 2007 outbreak.
The first report was made by a farmer within four days of the onset of clinical signs after noticing that one of his animals was "off-colour" on July 29.
The young attending vet was unsure whether the signs were FMD but took some samples anyway - and when they came back positive, the disease was contained within 58 days to eight infected premises.
The actions of this vet and farmer were key to minimising the impact of this outbreak.
We all think that "if it were me, of course, I'd do the right thing",... but it can be difficult.
I once drove out to see two calves with sore mouths, and when I got there, one was lame.
It was Christmas Day, and I was the first vet on call.
One had something that looked a bit like a sore on its tongue, and they were both drooling and in discomfort.
I had just finished a course on FMD response, so I knew the signs: blisters on the nose, mouth, and feet (causing lameness), fever, drooling, weight loss, inappetence, depression and a drop in milk production.
I stood there and thought, well, this is probably nothing. I didn't call the emergency hotline right away.
Then I examined them again before calling the farmer for a more thorough history.
I thought about calling my district veterinary officer (DVO) while she was at Christmas lunch with her family. And then I walked back to my car and sat there for a bit.
I made the phone call. I repeatedly apologised to my DVO.
I was grateful that I had someone who helped me.
She came and did her assessment, concluded that it was low risk, and took samples. I slept okay that evening.
You don't want to be the one that misses FMD.
Genomic testing can find the index case, and failing to report a notifiable disease attracts significant penalties.
But, more importantly, you want to be able to stand up at the senate inquiry or hold your head high at your local supermarket and say that you did everything that you were supposed to.
So if you see anything that even remotely looks like FMD (or LSD), call the emergency animal disease watch hotline on 1800 675 888.
It'll probably be nothing - but with FMD now right on our doorstep, it's better to be safe than sorry.
*Ee Cheng Ooi is a cattle veterinarian undertaking a PhD in fertility and genetics at DairyBio. All comments and information in this article are intended to be of general nature only. Please consult the farm's vet for advice, protocols and/or treatments that are tailored to the herd's particular needs. Comments and feedback are welcome, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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