Foot and mouth disease: prevention and preparedness in Western Australia


With the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Indonesia, and viral fragments detected in Australia, Murdoch University experts in veterinary medicine and epidemiology examine the facts and explain the importance of keeping FMD out of Australia.

By Murdoch University Principal, School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr Henry Annandale, Senior Lecturer Veterinary Epidemiology, Dr Mieghan Bruce, and Lecturer Veterinary Public Health and Epidemiology, Dr Shafi Sahibzada. 

Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious animal disease that affects food-producing animals including cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs as well as other cloven-hoofed animals such as deer and camels.  

An incursion of the virus into Australia would have severe consequences for animal health and trade and is considered one of Australia’s greatest biosecurity risks. The faster FMD is recognised and reported, the sooner it can be eradicated.   

Australia has detailed FMD response plans in place. Early detection enhances the feasibility of the successful eradication of FMD.  

As part of the Australian Government’s response to the spread of animal diseases in the region, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has increased its surveillance and testing of meat and other animal products, both at the border and through targeted checking of retail outlets.    

Some of the ways FMD could enter Australia is through people travelling or returning to Australia from FMD-risk countries and by the illegal importation of meat and dairy products, which can carry the FMD virus.  

You may have heard that during a recent purchasing and testing campaign of food for sale in supermarkets around Australia, one sample tested positive for FMD and African Swine Fever – the test does not indicate live virus. This sample was from pork floss offered for sale in Melbourne.  

There is no threat to human health and the finding does not change Australia’s disease-free status for FMD and ASF.

Meat products seized at the border from travellers and through the mail are also being tested. Recently a passenger was intercepted with a beef product, which also tested positive for FMD viral fragments. 

While this does not indicate live virus capable of infecting animals it reminds us how important it is to remain vigilant and that everyone has a role in preventing harmful pests and diseases from entering Australia.   
If you are travelling, importing goods, or ordering goods through the mail, be aware of what is permitted entry to Australia. You can do this by checking the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website.
With increased international travel and the short-term winter holiday plans of many Australians in full swing, one of the biggest dangers is returning travellers bringing FMD into the country from places such as Bali, which is currently affected by an FMD outbreak.  

Travellers do not need to have visited rural or farming areas to be at risk of coming in contact with the FMD virus.   

Research has found that under certain conditions, the virus can remain infective for 11 weeks on boot leather and 13 weeks on rubber boots.  

Washing and scrubbing shoes and clothes with hot soapy water, or preferably disinfectant, before boarding a flight is an effective way to reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease.     

The recent successful use of vaccination to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, may raise questions on whether vaccination against FMDV can be used.  

When a country uses vaccination as a strategy in FMD management, it complicates their ability to be considered FMD virus-free in future. When an animal is vaccinated against FMD virus, it tests positive and further testing is required to distinguish between vaccine virus and infection (or wild type) virus.  

Vaccination is therefore not an option to Australia at this moment.  

Our FMDV-status is much more valuable (from an economic and welfare perspective), and we should do everything possible to protect it.    

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.   


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 three to five 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.   

Although any affected animals can survive FMD, they take time to recover, and many food-producing animals do not regain their full productivity. Surviving animals may also become carriers of the virus, putting susceptible animals at risk.  


Further information about FMD

Posted on:

22 Jul 2022


Science, General

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