If you are one of the millions of town and city dwellers probably indifferent to the Indonesian foot and mouth disease outbreak, and who believe it is only a threat to pastoralists and pig producers, think again.
Foot and mouth disease is on our doorstep in Bali. If it hops across the Timor Sea to mainland Australia it could cost this nation up to $80 billion to eradicate, and in other economic impacts. To put that in perspective, it is estimated a relatively minor outbreak in the UK in 2001 cost that country almost $19 billion.
One reason for the high potential cost in Australia is that a local outbreak would jeopardise flourishing meat export markets that have taken almost 200 years to establish. It would also end this country's 150 year record of keeping the virus at bay.
While, unlike the coronavirus, foot and mouth disease is a very low-level threat to humans, it spreads like wildfire in cattle, sheep, goats and pigs and other cloven-hoofed animals. The incubation period is between one and 12 days. It causes a high fever, which lasts up to three days, and the characteristic blistering inside the month and on the feet that gives the disease its name.
Animals can remain carriers even after they have apparently recovered and the symptoms have disappeared. And, while it is possible to respond to outbreaks with a vaccine, this strategy takes time to take effect. As a result many FMD-free countries deal with outbreaks using the traditional method; the mass slaughter of every animal that may have come into contact with an infected beast.
That was the way Australia's last, and worst, outbreak was contained at Werribee in 1872 when William McCulloch imported eight cattle - six bulls and two heifers - to Victoria from Britain. Three of the bulls were exhibited at the Heidelberg Show before being sold at auction.
They, and the other five animals, travelled far and wide before reaching their final destinations. This created multiple exposure sites and the exponential increase in infections that we are all familiar with from COVID-19.
While, after much effort and considerable expense, the disease was finally wiped out, public concern was so great the Victorian government set up a Royal Commission to investigate how the outbreak had come about and how recurrences could be avoided.
This investigation helped lay the foundations for the framework of quarantine regulations and other measures that have given Australia such an enviable record in the area of biosecurity.
All of that said however, there is no reason to panic or to stop eating Australian beef and lamb. The disease is still offshore and, if everybody does their bit, will not breach our bio-security defences.
Given anybody who has ever watched an episode of Border Security will have been astounded at some of the things people try to bring in from overseas the message is clear; do not, under any circumstances, bring any kind of food product into Australia.
If you are travelling anywhere overseas and have been on a farm or may have been in contact with animals make sure you declare that on your return. And, if you have been in a country with FMD such as Indonesia, wash your clothes before departing for home and either have your footwear thoroughly cleaned or, better yet, leave it behind.
When you do get back make sure you have indicated on the incoming passenger card you have something to declare. This will ensure your footwear and clothing can be inspected and disinfected if necessary.
While FMD is a very different beast to COVID-19 the last three years have been a crash course in individual responsibility and personal biosecurity.
At the end of the day it is up to us.
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