West Australian task force to tackle threat of foot and mouth and lumpy skin diseases

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
Lumpy skin disease causes painful skin lesions, fever, watery eyes, loss of appetite, sluggishness and in some cases death.
Camera IconLumpy skin disease causes painful skin lesions, fever, watery eyes, loss of appetite, sluggishness and in some cases death. Credit: DAWE/Supplied

The State Government has formed an emergency task force to help WA prepare for the “emerging threats” of foot and mouth and lumpy skin disease, as the highly contagious livestock illnesses continue to sweep Indonesia.

The Emergency Animal Disease Preparedness Task Group is being led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, and includes representatives from the State’s peak livestock bodies and across the supply chain.

DPIRD biosecurity executive director Mia Carbon said the group would play a key role in providing advice to the State Government on industry’s ability to prepare and respond to an outbreak, including issues around recovery and resilience.

“The group will coordinate with other national and state industry and government organisations to share information and will play a critical role in connecting with industry and supply chains across the State,” Dr Carbon said.

“The focus will be on building industry awareness of emergency animal diseases, in particular FMD and LSD, to ensure early detection and prompt reporting of any unusual symptoms in livestock.

“The group will also review potential market impacts from FMD and LSD and other emergency animal diseases and help industries plan for this.”

Dr Carbon said traceability was essential to finding and containing diseases, as well as responding effectively and regaining market access as early as possible.

“The task group will review traceability arrangements in WA to ensure that current data is available and accurate to inform prevention and preparedness activities,” she said.

“They will also help identify the priority work needed for the WA livestock industry to be prepared for an outbreak of FMD or LSD.”

Livestock industry bodies represented on the group include WAFarmers, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA, Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association, WA Pork Producers Association, WA Livestock Exporter’s Association and the WA Meat Industry Authority.

WA chief veterinary officer Michelle Rodan briefed the group at its first gathering last month, with a second meeting held on Thursday.

“DPIRD canvassed LSD and FMD national activities to reduce the risk to Australia, including access to vaccination, as well as WA activities involving surveillance and diagnostics, traceability, market access, training and communications,” a department spokesperson said.

INDUSTRY RESPONDS

KPCA chief executive Mick Sheehy said LSD and FMD were “very high priorities” for the KPCA.

“An incursion of either disease would decimate the Australian cattle industry,” he said.

“KPCA has been involved in discussions with industry and government from the initial detection of LSD in North Sumatra, in March.”

Foot and mouth disease-infected cattle are burnt on a field in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, during a 2001 outbreak.
Camera IconFoot and mouth disease-infected cattle are burnt on a field in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, during a 2001 outbreak. Credit: PETER MORRISON/AP

FMD was detected among cattle in East Java in early May, with thousands of cases of both diseases now confirmed across Indonesia.

Mr Sheehy said he had been in regular contact with Indonesian associates but it was hard to get accurate information on the LSD situation now that FMD had taken off.

“LSD detection occurred during Ramadan/Idul Fitri (Islamic holiday), which is a time when the country becomes extremely chaotic, with mass movements of people across the country,” he explained.

“Before any post Idul Fitri normality was restored, FMD was discovered in East Java.

“FMD poses a much bigger threat to both Indonesia and Australia and the majority of resources and effort have now been directed at FMD in Indonesia.”

Mr Sheehy said he was also in regular contact with veteran Indonesian cattleman Greg Pankhurst, who was helping to prevent an FMD incursion into the large commercial feedlots of southern Sumatra.

“Even without an incursion of FMD into the big feedlots in Indonesia, we are now seeing an impact as importers become more cautious,” Mr Sheehy said.

FMD – which is endemic in South East Asia - is transmitted by contact with contaminated animals, feed and water, vehicles, equipment, clothing and footwear.

While it has not been detected in Bali, Mr Sheehy said an incursion into the tourist hotspot was likely with FMD present in East Java and Lombok.

LSD, on the other hand, is spread by culicoides (air borne vectors) such as midges.

Australian Cattle Vets president Tracy Sullivan said a recent study demonstrated the virus survived 2.4 days in the biting midge, and a 0.19 probability of biting midge being able to induce the virus in cattle.

“Culicoides travel on monsoonal winds from Indonesia to Northern Australia; mosquitoes and flies don’t,” Dr Sullivan said.

“Spatiotemporal (space-time) modelling patterns of dispersal from Lombok, Sumba, Flores, West Timor and Timor-Leste show that given the right conditions, Culicoides could arrive in coastal northern WA and the NT.”

The KPCA and NT Cattlemen’s Association are calling for LSD testing facilities to be made available in northern Australia, citing the need for rapid diagnosis of samples.

Mr Sheehy has also formed a multi-agency working group to have a truck wash built at the Roebuck Export Yards.

“We will be on the frontline of an LSD incursion if the incursion is through air borne vectors,” he said.

“We need to make sure that our surveillance and response is at industry best practice.”

The Red Meat Advisory Council has taken the lead on the FMD and LSD response at a national level.

Speaking at the Queensland Rural Press Club recently, RMAC chair John McKillop said Australian livestock producers should be “alert, but not alarmed”.

Australia has an FMD vaccine bank in the UK in the event of an outbreak.

In April, the Federal Government granted approval for live samples of the lumpy skin virus to be imported into Australia so infectious disease experts could develop an approved mRNA vaccine.

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