Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is a highly infectious viral disease affecting cloven hoofed animals. Australia is working with offshore collaborators such as the Netherlands to work on the live FMD virus.
An 'expensive' virus
It is the most significant viral disease affecting cloven-hoofed animals – including cattle, sheep, pigs and goats. While not usually fatal, it can permanently reduce the productivity of affected animals and is economically devastating for livestock producers mostly due to long lasting export restrictions in areas historically free of the disease.
Australia has been free of FMD since 1872, but it is still considered the most serious biosecurity threat to Australia's agricultural industries.
Australia's freedom from FMD and other diseases, such as Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease), underpins access to export markets for many of our agricultural products. A recent study estimates that a large outbreak of FMD in Australia could cost the economy more than A$50 billion over 10 years with severe social and trade impacts.
FMD Global Initiative
Finding solutions the FMD problem really requires a global approach. Recent outbreaks in previously disease-free countries demonstrate the significance of controlling the disease at source, in the places where the virus is endemic.
It is therefore important to perform research both here in Australia and in neighbouring countries to improve diagnostic capability and increase our understanding of FMD strains in the region.
Since research with live FMD virus is not permitted in Australia, all the work is performed offshore with collaborators in countries such as Vietnam, the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, the Netherlands, Thailand and Argentina.
Australia is investing in neighbouring countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, to help them improve their control strategies, laboratory facilities, and staff training through CSIRO and AusAID.
Global FMD Research Alliance
CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP), formerly the Australian Animal Health Laboratory is actively involved in an international alliance aimed at developing new vaccines, diagnostic tests and antiviral drugs for FMD.
Launched in 2003, the Global FMD Research Alliance's (GFRA) mission is to generate and share knowledge to develop tools that can successfully prevent, control and eradicate the disease and reduce the risk of outbreaks.
In the years since its establishment, the GFRA has extended its membership to include all major FMD research laboratories in the world as well as members from FMD-endemic countries.
FMD risk management project
Our researchers are undertaking research off shore to determine the level of protection Australia's FMD vaccine bank provides.
The project - the FMD risk management project - focuses largely on testing vaccines in the Australian bank against viruses currently circulating in South East Asia.
We have undertaken a number of animal studies involving cattle, sheep and pigs to investigate whether the vaccines protect animals against FMD, as well as investigating how the virus behaves in the different animal models. For example, we have determined the pathogenicity of the viruses and how much virus is shed from the animals via their saliva, nasal fluids and faeces.
This information will assist in enhancing Australia's ability to respond to an FMD outbreak and minimise any disruptions due to quarantine and trade restrictions.
Continuing to test the available vaccines will assist in ensuring the current vaccine bank will provide protection against newly emerging strains of this evolving virus.
Funding was provided in part by the livestock industries in Australia through Animal Health Australia (AHA). The relevant industry bodies include the Cattle Council of Australia, Australian Dairy Farmers, Australian Lot Feeders Association, Wool Producers Australia, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, Australian Pork Limited and the Goat Industry Council of Australia. The AHA funds are matched through the Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) Donor Company by the Australian Government under MLA Project P.PSH 0652.