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Biosecurity research trip to Nepal

January/February 2019

Kylie Challen, Biosecurity Coordinator

In Australia, our governments (both State and Federal), and industry groups invest a great deal of money protecting our favourable biosecurity status through prevention, planning and preparedness for exotic diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

In December 2018, I was fortunate to travel to Nepal with a group of 20 veterinarians and other stakeholders, to learn about FMD. This ‘real time’ training allowed us to practise stringent biosecurity techniques, examine infected animals, collect specimens, apply treatments and conduct analysis to determine point of infection.

Whilst there, we were able to see firsthand the true impacts of the disease on the animals, land managers and the country.

What is FMD?

FMD is a highly contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals. The disease is characterised by the formation of vesicles (fluid-filled blisters) and lesions in the mouth, nose, teats and feet.

What species are affected?

Cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, buffaloes, pigs, sheep, goats, camelids and deer are susceptible.

How is it spread?

Direct transmission is through infected animals shedding the virus in expired air, urine, faeces, milk, saliva and semen. The signs/symptoms may not be obvious for up to 4 days.

Indirect transmission of infection can also occur when vehicles, clothing, hands or feedstuffs get contaminated with the virus and then come in contact with susceptible animals. Windborne spread can occur and has (in cases overseas) caused transmission of the virus over significant distances.

Apart from the lesions, what are some other suggestive signs of the disease?

Observations of infected animals in Nepal included depression, sudden lameness, salivation, chomping, fever, loss of appetite, and sudden reduction in milk yield (in dairy cattle).

Farmers in Nepal advised that milk production dropped 50% to 80% for up to seven months. FMD was often followed by chronic mastitis, increasing the loss to land managers.

What would be the potential impact to Australia?

Although not very lethal in adult animals, FMD causes serious production losses and is a major constraint in international trade.

FMD would have very serious effects on Australia’s livestock industries since so many species found here are susceptible.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) update (in 2011) of the Productivity Commission report of 2001 estimated that over a ten year period there would be severe direct economic losses to the livestock and meat processing sector from an outbreak of FMD. These losses ranged from $7.1 billion for a small three month outbreak, to $16.0 billion for a large 12 month outbreak.

What can I do?

As a land manager, it’s imperative to always remain vigilant for signs of FMD in your stock. Should you see anything of concern you should call your District Veterinarian without delay.

Ensure you meet Division 9 of the (NSW) Biosecurity Regulations 2017; which prohibits the feeding of swill to pigs (e.g. food waste containing meat or other mammalian by-products to pigs). FMD can be spread through contaminated food. Therefore, if you have any enquires regarding swill feeding; please contact your local Biosecurity Team.

Why is early detection so important?

Early detection is vital, not just to reduce the impact to land managers, industry and the broader community. But to ensure the source of the disease is promptly identified and managed.

In Nepal we learnt how to determine the age of the lesion. This knowledge is critical to determine the source of the infection and to prevent/limit the spread of the disease.

I own a property and I am travelling overseas, will I bring back FMD?

On the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ website you will find the FMD free countries list:

Regardless of where you live, and the disease status of the country you are travelling to; all passengers should take precautions and declare any items subject to biosecurity. If in doubt, always check with a Biosecurity Officer on arrival at the international air/sea port.

Acknowledgements

I would like to sincerely thank the following organisations who invested in our visit to Nepal, including the:

  • Australian Commonwealth Government
  • NSW State Government
  • South East Local Land Services
  • Government of Nepal
  • European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease (EuFMD)
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

I would like to thank the people of Nepal, who kindly gave us access to their farms and animals during a very stressful time. They generously shared their experiences, challenges and details of the true impacts of FMD.

They did this, so that we could learn and bring home the key messages for our communities and industries.

I would also like to thank the other EuFMD real time training participants (from Australia, Nepal, New Zealand and USA) for sharing their knowledge and experience so that we all returned home more well-informed from the experience.