Foot & mouth disease - Nepal experience

Since 2010, 198 Australians have been trained in Nepal to recognise foot and mouth disease (FMD)

Bruce Watt, Regional Veterinarian

If you are a wool producer (or a red meat producer or a Local Land Services ratepayer or an Australian taxpayer) some of your funds have been spent sending me (and since 2010, nearly 200 other Australians) to Nepal for a week of training.

The primary purpose of our trip was to see foot and mouth disease in the field. But the 20 or so participants in each week long course, run by the European Commission for the Control of FMD (a special commission of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) also spend that week focusing on FMD; how to recognise it, how to diagnose it, how to prevent it and how to contribute to eradicating it. Is this how some of your money should be spent?

Clearly the leaders of our peak livestock organisations think so as does the Federal Government and state organisations such as NSW DPI and Local Land Services.

The figures on the cost of an FMD outbreak to livestock industries (and to the entire Australian economy), while massive, are hard to comprehend. One estimate is that a small outbreak could cost $10 billion dollars while a large outbreak could cost $50 billion dollars over 10 years.

In the initial stages of an outbreak, stock movements and sales would stop. Our exports of livestock commodities would immediately cease. Livestock returns would plummet and could remain low for many years as we firstly eradicate the disease and then struggle to regain our lost overseas markets.

We know that early diagnosis and swift appropriate action is key to containing FMD should it breech our defenses beyond and at our borders. Hence the training that many of us have now undertaken.

I arrived in Nepal on Sunday 27 November.

Monday 28

The first day of our training, was spent in the class rooms discussing all aspects of FMD.

Tuesday 29

We traveled to small farms east of Kathmandu to see FMD affected livestock. These landholders typically run two-three dairy cows or buffalo (also kept for milk) and some also have a small flock of milking goats.

One small Jersey cow that we examined had just caught FMD. It stood, dull and lethargic, drooling saliva. It had a temperature of 41.4 and had blisters (vesicles) and ulcers on the tongue, mouth, teats and between the claws.

Other cattle that we examined were recovering but had healing ulcers in the mouths and on the feet. We took samples for to check the diagnosis.The laboratory soon confirmed that this was Type O FMD, the commonest of the seven distinct types of FMD.

Wednesday 30

Another day in the class room.

Thursday 1

We again traveled out to a different rural community east of Kathmandu. Many farmers in this community experienced FMD about six months ago. With the help of Nepalese colleagues we interviewed 45 of these farmers hoping to determine what factors contributed to them succumbing to FMD.

We learned that not every farmer’s stock became infected with FMD but few took the opportunity to vaccinate their livestock. As expected the adult livestock on most farms recovered after a marked drop in milk production but we also discovered that some young goats and calves died suddenly of FMD. This reinforced the point to us that young livestock are susceptible to heart disease from FMD.

All participants in the course (from across Australia, Nepal and one from France) felt that is enormously beneficial in familiarising us with this serious threat. While it is vital that we are well prepared, let us all hope that we don’t ever get to put this training into practice.

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