Early detection key to treating foot and mouth disease

Opinion: Early detection key to treating foot and mouth disease in sheep


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Foot and mouth disease training participants including SPA’s Will Oldfield during a visit to an infected farm in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Foot and mouth disease training participants including SPA’s Will Oldfield during a visit to an infected farm in Kathmandu, Nepal.

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Training program has taught more than 300 Australians and 150 Nepalese local vets how to recognise, report and investigate a first-hand outbreak of FMD.

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THE importance of early detection of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in sheep has been highlighted during a recent training program in Nepal.

The federal government funded program, which is delivered in partnership with the European Commission for the Control of Foot and Mouth Disease (EuFMD) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), was launched in 2012 to improve Australia’s early detection and response capacity for an outbreak of FMD. 

The program has trained more than 300 Australians and 150 Nepalese local vets and provides participants with the opportunity to recognise, report and investigate a first-hand outbreak of FMD.  

The federal government estimated that a 12 month national outbreak of the viral disease would cost the Australian economy an estimated $16 billion. 

While it can cause serious production losses, the most significant impact of the disease occurs because of its effect on trade in livestock and livestock products.

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The five-day course was held in Kathmandu during November last year, with SPA sponsoring three industry members.

Participants included producers, stock handlers, private and government vets and animal health policy makers. 

During the week, we travelled to farms and villages in Kathmandu experiencing FMD outbreaks and observed animals and conducted clinical examinations.

We also performed epidemiological surveys, to successfully investigate and diagnose real-time cases of FMD. 

The culmination of the week brings a report and presentation to the local Nepalese Government, which details our findings and recommendations. 

It is particularly important for sheep industry figures to understand the major signs of FMD so they can act quickly in reporting potential cases via a veterinarian, stock inspector or the emergency animal disease hotline listed at the bottom of this story. 

Sheep can play a significant role in spreading FMD as symptoms are particularly subtle and difficult to detect – but may include foot and mouth lesions, lameness, fever and depression. 

Early detection is essential to reduce the potential impact of FMD. 

The training also emphasised how readily the disease is spread; between livestock, livestock products, people, transport and equipment.

In Australia the transportation of livestock between saleyards poses a significant threat. 

Going into the villages also made clear the difficulties in eradicating FMD in a place such as Kathmandu.

The farms are very close to one another and there is a high level of human and animal movement, while the vet and equipment used can also play a significant role in spreading of disease.

Other issues including the quality of vaccinations and the cultural significance in relation to cows, which have played a role.

There is also a need for all Australian visitors to Kathmandu to be wary of the biosecurity risks, even if they have not directly visited a farm. 

This is because FMD is widespread throughout the villages so there is a risk of picking it up on your shoes and clothes and bringing it back home with you to Australia. 

Stock owners who notice any unusual disease signs, abnormal behaviour or unexplained deaths in livestock should contact their veterinarian, stock inspector or the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

  • Will Oldfield is the sheep health and welfare policy manager at Sheep Producers Australia.
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