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FMD – The Current World Situation and Developments in Australia

Gardner Murray

Chief Veterinary Officer, Exotic Diseases & Trade, Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry


Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) continues to be a serious disease of livestock around the world. In the last few years there has been an upsurge in FMD activity in those parts of the world where the disease occurs, as well as outbreaks in a number of previously free countries.

There are seven virus serotypes of FMD (O, A ,C, Asia 1, SAT 1, SAT 2 and SAT 3), which are distributed around the world. SAT 1, SAT 2 and SAT 3 are restricted to Africa; Asia 1 is restricted to Asia; and O, A and C are present in Africa, Asia and South America and occasionally Europe. Infection with one type does not cross-protect against infection with other types and more than one type can be isolated from field cases. Each serotype can be further divided into a number of ‘subtypes’ based quantitative serological tests — over 60 sub-types or strains are recognised. There is variable cross protection between virus strains within serotypes and infection with one strain does not necessarily confer immunity to other strains.

Currently, there is a pandemic of a new FMD Type O virus. This is the Pan Asia strain, which is responsible for the current UK epidemic. The Type O Pan Asia strain is aggressive and can co-exist with or displace other FMD strains. The clinical picture is variable e.g. in cattle signs can vary from classical FMD to sub-clinical infection. Experience in several Asian countries suggests that 'native' species of cattle may be resistant to clinical disease. As with other strains of FMD, it can be hard to recognise in sheep.

The Type O Pan Asia strain was first described in India in 1990 and, over the last 11 years, has spread to the Middle East, Europe, North Asia, South East Asia and South Africa. It has caused FMD in countries previously free of the disease, in some cases having been free for many years, e.g. Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, the UK, Ireland, France and the Netherlands.

Factors predisposing to the spread and establishment of the virus include increased movement of livestock and livestock products; changes in industry practices; illicit activities; failure to report suspect FMD cases; the nature of the disease in sheep; as well as the characteristics of the Pan Asia strain (e.g. this virus appears to be relatively resistant to inactivation in the environment).

There are many lessons to be learned from the recent UK experience and experiences with FMD in other countries. These include:

  • the need for pre-planning a whole of Government approach,
  • a clear definition of roles and responsibilities,
  • ensuring compliance with regulations, and
  • improving and enhancing risk communication activities.

Australia has well-developed emergency planning and response arrangements and a well-deserved reputation for its ability to manage emergency situations. Many countries use AUSVETPLAN documents (available from website as a basis for their planning systems. However, the potential scale and economic impacts of an FMD outbreak in Australia, as shown by the UK situation, has demonstrated the need for a thorough evaluation of our contingency planning arrangements.

Accordingly the Agricultural Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand (ARMCANZ) established a National Management Group (NMG) in March this year to review FMD and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) preparedness activities. An NMG Report was considered by ARMCANZ in May which decided, inter alia, to:

  • endorse finalisation of a BSE and FMD strategic plan to be considered at the August 2001 meeting of ARMCANZ;
  • develop a risk management framework to analyse all identified and emerging high-priority, animal health threats and provide it to COAG;
  • develop a whole-of-government approach to managing major disease emergencies;
  • enhance our capabilities in epidemiology, emergency response communications, international animal health standard-setting, diagnostics and technology, field resources such as vets in remote areas, and training; and
  • initiate detailed preparations for a full scale simulation of a foot and mouth disease outbreak to be conducted in early 2002 and subjected to third party oversight by appropriate international observers.

These decisions are being progressed as a matter of urgency. At the same time Australia is working with a range of overseas countries to, inter alia, examine a range of international standards in areas such as zoning, vaccination, diagnostic tests and the like.

Australia must learn from the UK experience, pre-plan, ensure engagement of key players and assess risks and modify approaches on an ongoing basis. A whole of Government approach to the prevention and management of national emergency is essential.

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