Foot and mouth disease

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The highly contagious nature of the disease Symptoms Early diagnosis the key to control The potential impact of FMD on the Australian economy Further information

The highly contagious nature of the disease
Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease that affects pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and deer. FMD does not affect humans, horses, or companion animals such as dogs and cats. It is spread rapidly by contact with infected animals, transmission on clothing and vehicles, and through the air. The virus multiplies to such an extent in infected animals that their expired air is virtually a cloud of virus. The following have the potential to carry foot and mouth disease into Australia from any infected country:
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uncooked or semi-cooked meats; dairy products; hides and skins.

Strict quarantine measures are in place in Australia to prevent entry of the disease. Feeding food refuse (swill) to pigs is thought to have played a big part in how the FMD epidemic started in the United Kingdom in 2001. New South Wales (and all other Australian states and territories) have strict laws that prohibit the feeding of food scraps or refuse to animals. To help avert the establishment of FMD and other diseases in Australia, we urge everyone to prevent pigs (including wild pigs) from gaining access to food scraps. Early diagnosis and slaughter are needed to minimize the number and persistence of viruses, dramatically reducing the chances of spread. Vaccination has been used successfully to control FMD in many parts of the world where the disease occurs. However, vaccinated animals are not totally resistant and can still become infected with FMD and shed the virus. Foot and mouth disease is NOT present in Australia.

If FMD were to be introduced into Australia, producers should be suspicious if they see any of the following signs in their livestock:
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dullness loss of appetite fall in milk production fever excessive salivation or drooling (Figure 1) severe lameness or reluctance to walk.

Clinical signs of the disease in infected animals include blisters or ulcerations on the mouth, snout (Figure 2), tongue (Figure 3), gums, teats or around the top of the feet (Figure 4).

Figure 1. Painful blisters (vesicles) on the mouth and tongue result in saliva drooling from the mouth

Figure 2. A blister, in the process of rupturing, on the snout of a pig

Figure 3. A ruptured blister (vesicle) on the tongue exposes underlying tissue

Figure 4. Inflammation of the coronet region above the feet of a pig

Early diagnosis the key to control
Livestock producers should realise that they will be the key to Australia’s ability to control and eradicate FMD in the event of an outbreak in Australia. Should a case of FMD occur, it will be vitally important for it to be diagnosed early, and for the infected and in-contact animals to be immediately slaughtered, before the disease has a chance to spread. Livestock producers are often reluctant to call a veterinarian to look at sick livestock. When there is salivation and lameness in cattle, sheep and pigs, with or without high numbers of deaths, the call to a vet should be immediate. The clear message to all livestock owners is: Don’t take risks — look, check, call the vet. The local veterinarian, or the District Veterinarian from your local Rural Lands Protection Board, should be the first choice of contact, but a call to the exotic disease hotline on 1800 675 888 is a sensible alternative. Every year, NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) staff investigate a number of suspicious disease cases where the clinical signs are serious enough to warrant samples being sent to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong for FMD exclusion. Producers should not feel they are causing unnecessary trouble by reporting unusual signs of disease — Veterinary Officers would rather check 100 reports that prove to be groundless than miss out on one early diagnosis. Outbreaks of FMD in other countries demonstrate the importance of early diagnosis:

The magnitude of the recent FMD outbreak in the United Kingdom, Europe and Ireland is mainly due to the fact that the first case of the disease was not reported and diagnosed. The disease was first identified in pigs at slaughter. This meant that it had already spread to other farms before it was diagnosed. At the same time, infected sheep had been marketed all over Britain and elsewhere. As a consequence, Britain faced losses in the order of billions of pounds. Experiments conducted after an FMD outbreak in Taiwan in 1997 showed that if all the infected animals had been slaughtered on the same day as confirmation of the disease, more than 60 per cent of the pig farms that later became infected would have avoided the disease. There have been a number of instances where early reporting of FMD resulted in relatively small economic loss. An outbreak in Italy was confined to three farms only, proving control is possible despite the infectious nature of the disease.

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