The threat posed to Australia's livestock industries by foot and mouth disease was highlighted for Biosecurity Queensland inspector Dan Burton on a recent research trip to Nepal, where he saw firsthand the impacts of the infection in cattle.
Based at Blackall, Dan has been an inspector with Biosecurity Queensland for over 20 years and plays a key role in disease surveillance and emergency response preparedness.
As part of these preparedness activities, he was part of a multi-national team of 12 that travelled to Nepal, where foot and mouth disease is endemic, to observe firsthand what this devastating disease looks like in real life.
Dan met with local veterinarians to learn more about how the disease is transmitted, incubation periods, sample collection and interpreting diagnostic results.
He is now sharing his learnings across the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, with private veterinarians, producers and transport operators.
Dan said that looking at real life cases in Nepal was a chilling experience.
"I clearly remember walking into a dairy and seeing a black Friesian cow with a mass of foamy bubbles directly under her as she just streamed saliva and drool onto the floor while standing in the stall," he said.
"This really made the hair stand up on the back of your neck as you then realised you were looking at a case of foot and mouth disease.
"The extreme pain the animals went through can only be witnessed when seeing this disease firsthand.
"There is considerable open mouth breathing and jaw chomping happening as well as excessive drooling among the infected animals.
"In Nepal, the disease has resulted in a massive drop in milk production. Also, the losses of adult cattle are significant when you were dealing with farms that only have 15 head in a large dairy.
"Individual households are generally relying on 3-4 head of cattle plus goats, so it's a significant problem for them."
The foot and mouth disease virus is extremely contagious and if it were to be introduced to Australia it would cause major production losses and seriously affect Australia's international livestock trade.
Dan said the importance of Queensland's surveillance systems and the need for everyone to be very vigilant couldn't be emphasised enough.
"We're lucky that in Australia we have a network of well-trained animal health professionals and laboratory services that are needed in ruling out any possible exotic diseases and to keep Australia free of this and other exotic diseases," he said.
"We're currently rolling out a new surveillance plan in Queensland to promote and encourage producers to stay engaged with their local vets and make surveillance a key part of their biosecurity plans.
"Identifying and then reporting signs in livestock that may be consistent with foot and mouth disease is so important.
"I am urging all Queensland producers to ensure they monitor their livestock, and if you see anything consistent with foot and mouth disease then immediately call your veterinarian or Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.
"You should also have the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 number saved in your phone."
Dan's research trip was supported through the Australian government's Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the European Commission for the Control of FMD, Biosecurity Queensland, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.