Foot-and-mouth action plan in spotlight

Thursday, 10 May, 2001

Australia's preparedness to deal with an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) went under the microscope at a joint Australian Veterinary Assocation (AVA) and University of Sydney symposium on FMD in Sydney last week.

Dr Harvey Westbury of CSIRO Livestock Industries' Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) told the symposium that Australia has an excellent diagnostic capacity for the complex virus, which will be used to back up the detailed contingency plans for the disease, contained in AUSVETPLAN, and Australia's strict quarantine measures.

Although Australia's last outbreak of the disease was in 1872, recent outbreaks in Asia, and more recently in the UK and Europe mean that Australia's veterinary and quarantine officials are on high alert.

"Foot-and-mouth disease is a highly contagious disease which is caused by seven different strains of the virus. The virus can infect all cloven-hoofed animals including sheep, pigs and cattle. It has long been Australia's worst nightmare in terms of animal disease, because of the disastrous effect it has on production of meat, wool, and milk," Dr Westbury says.

Adult animals rarely die from the disease, however the painful blisters that form on the feet and mouths cause the animals to suffer and lose condition. Younger animals can be killed by FMD.

Dr Westbury says the different strains of virus present special problems in diagnosing and controlling the disease.

"If FMD gets into the country, it is important that the first signs are noticed by veterinarians and farmers and that AAHL is able to make a diagnosis as quickly as possible so that control measures can be taken," he says.

"The symptoms of the disease in the UK have been textbook stuff. But some strains of the virus can cause milder disease symptoms which may mean the disease could go undetected for longer and spread further," Dr Westbury says.

For example an outbreak of FMD in Japan in 2000 did not cause foot or udder lesions in infected cattle.

For futher information please contact: Dr Harvey Westbury, CSIRO Livestock Industries ph:03 5227 5115 or Mob: 0409 121 087, or Emma Homes, CSIRO Livestock Industries ph:03 5227 5123.

Item provided courtesy of CSIRO

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