Foot-and-mouth disease: What can you do to avoid being part of the FMD problem

Foot-and-mouth disease: What can you do to avoid being part of the FMD problem


Foot-and-mouth disease is on our doorstep. Right now, it is spreading across livestock in Bali and throughout Indonesia. If it gets to Australia, the consequences would be devastating. 

In the worst-case scenario, billions would have to be spent on a national response and scores of painfully diseased cattle, sheep, pigs and goats could be culled.

Overnight, Australia’s international livestock markets would close.

An outbreak could wipe over $80 billion from the national economy. Livelihoods up and down the country would be at risk. 

If it seems like a problem purely to be managed by Australian farmers — it is not. There is every likelihood FMD could be unsuspectingly brought in and spread throughout Australia by members of the public. 

An unidentified man carries a toddler and a backpack walking through the Brisbane Airport.
Travellers from Indonesia are the focus of the government’s FMD response.(ABC News: Lucas Hill)

Over the past two years of the pandemic, many Australians have prided themselves on the actions they have taken to ‘stop the spread’ of COVID-19.

Now, restriction-weary members of the public once again have a role to play in avoiding being part of the spread of a highly-infectious disease. 

The Australian government, the livestock industry and members of the biosecurity and scientific community are imploring Australians to take the risk seriously and avoid being part of the FMD problem.

Warning: This story contains images some readers may find distressing

Heading to Bali?

A pool full of people drinking near a beach during sunset.
Foot-and-mouth disease has reached Bali.(Unsplash: Cassie Gallegos)

Foot-and-mouth disease is not in Australia. That is the tentative good news.

It has been 150 years since it was last present here, but it has never been closer. 

With increased international travel and the short-term winter holiday plans of many Australians in full swing, one of the biggest dangers is returning travellers bringing FMD into the country from Bali. 

FMD spreads between animals via their breath, through contact with the blisters, and through infected milk, semen, faeces and urine.

a cow lying on the found at an Indonesian farm.
Cattle suspected of having foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia. (Supplied)


It can also live on vehicle tyres, and can be carried on clothing and especially, footwear.

Travellers do not need to have visited rural or farming areas to be at risk of coming in contact with FMD. The incubation period of the disease is between 2-14 days, meaning it could survive on a set of shoes for a fortnight.

Such is the seriousness of the threat that there are growing calls to ban travel between Bali and Australia — a move Agriculture Minister Murray Watt has ruled out. 

Instead, the Australian government this week announced a range of new measures, including the presence of a biosecurity officer on every flight coming into Australia from Indonesia. 

A message will be broadcast on planes specific to the threat of FMD, while biosecurity surveillance will be beefed up at airports, including more detector dogs.

More measures are expected to be announced in the coming days.

Debate flip-flops on foot baths

Nationals Leader David Littleproud is among those calling for returning travellers from Indonesia to have to use foot baths with disinfectant at airports. 

Minister Watt said foot baths would not be introduced at this stage — in part because passengers might take multiple pairs of shoes with them on holiday, and partly because of the footwear choices of travellers to Bali. 

A black dog with a red coat with "biosecurity" written on it.
Tourists will be greeted by airport biosecurity dogs after the detection of FMD in Bali.(ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

“The chemicals that are in foot baths are pretty damaging to people if they come into contact with their skin.”

A narrow market street with stalls on either side
Travellers from Australia are beginning to return to Bali in greater numbers. (Supplied)

The minister said other options like disinfectant mats were being considered.

Beyond any measures at the border, travellers are being asked to take extra precautions before returning to Australia from Indonesia. 

Posted , updated 

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