If your livestock are showing signs of foot-and-mouth disease, immediately call the
Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888
(free call within Australia)
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious virus disease of livestock. It is one of the most serious livestock diseases. Australia is free from FMD.
It affects all cloven-hoofed animals (those with a divided toe), including:
- camelids (alpacas, llamas and camels)
It does not affect horses.
There is no threat to human health from this disease. FMD is not the same as Hand, mouth and foot disease which is a common disease in young children.
About the disease
Cattle, pigs, sheep, buffalo, deer, camelids and goats that are infected with FMD may initially show fever, drooling and reluctance to move. FMD also causes fluid filled blisters (vesicles) to form on the lips, tongue, palate, feet and teats of infected animals. These blisters then burst and leave raw, painful ulcers that take up to 10 days to heal.
Although few animals die from FMD, it can have significant effects on animal welfare and production.
Chapter 3.10 of the Emergency Animal Diseases Field Guide for Veterinarians has more specific information about FMD.
FMD spreads rapidly from one animal to another, especially in cool, damp climates and/or when animals are penned or housed closely together. Virus is excreted in breath, saliva, mucus, milk and faeces. The virus can be excreted by animals for up to four days before clinical signs appear. Animals can become infected through inhalation, ingestion and direct contact. The disease spreads between farms most commonly through the movement of infected animals.
In sheep the signs can be mild and may be difficult to notice. In overseas outbreaks, the movement of sheep can be an important source of infection. FMD virus can also be spread on wool, hair, grass or straw; by the wind; or by mud or manure sticking to footwear, clothing, livestock equipment or vehicle tyres.
Pigs are highly susceptible to oral infection if they are fed contaminated meat or meat products, which is why swill feeding is prohibited in Australia. Pigs are also regarded as ‘amplifying hosts’ because they can excrete very large quantities of the virus in their exhaled breath. Cattle are very susceptible to, and able to be infected by breathing in small quantities of the virus.
It is present in Asia, including in Indonesia, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of South America. Different strains of virus tend to dominate in different parts of the globe.
FMD risk to Australia
Australia’s livestock populations have not been exposed to this disease and are fully susceptible. Australia has successfully kept FMD out of the country for more than 130 years, but FMD has shown its ability to establish and spread internationally.
Australia doesn’t allow imports of any susceptible live animals, semen or uncooked meat or unprocessed dairy products from FMD-affected countries or zones. FMD virus is most likely to be introduced through contaminated, illegally imported animal products or through objects (e.g. footwear) contaminated with the virus, that come in contact with susceptible animals
An outbreak in Australia could have devastating consequences for our community in lost production, trade and tourism. A 2013 ABARES report 2013 estimated an FMD outbreak would result in severe direct economic losses to the livestock and meat processing sector over a ten-year period. These losses ranged up to $52 billion over 10 years, largely due to lost export market access. An update to this estimate conducted in 2022 found the same large outbreak in multiple states would now have a direct economic impact of around $80 billion (in 2020-21 dollars).
If Australia experienced an incursion of FMD, our agreed policy is to contain, control and eradicate the disease to re-establish Australia’s FMD-free status of Australia as quickly as possible, while minimising social and financial disruption.
Movement controls and destruction of infected and at-risk animals (along with other complementary control measures such as cleaning and disinfection) are essential to eradicate this disease. Vaccination can be an important tool to assist in containing and eradicating FMD, but its use will have trade implications.
Australia has an overseas FMD vaccine bank and vaccine is available for use if there is an incursion in Australia.