Foot-and-mouth disease frequently asked questions

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is an acute, highly contagious viral disease of domestic and wild cloven-hoofed animals. FMD can cause serious production losses and is a major constraint to international trade in livestock and livestock products.

What is foot-and-mouth disease?

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious viral disease of livestock, affecting cloven-hoofed animals including cattle, buffalo, pigs, sheep, goats, deer, camels, alpacas and llamas.

FMD causes fever followed by the development of blisters in the mouth and on the feet. It is generally not lethal to adult animals, but it can kill young animals and cause serious production losses.

FMD is a notifiable exotic disease and any suspected or confirmed cases must be reported to Agriculture Victoria on the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 (24 hours, 7 days a week) or to your local Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare staff.

How is the virus spread?

FMD is a highly contagious animal disease that spreads rapidly between susceptible animals.

Virus is excreted in the breath, saliva, mucus, milk and faeces of infected animals. Animals can transmit the disease for up to four days before signs of the disease appear. Animals can become infected through inhalation, ingestion and direct contact.

The disease spreads most commonly through the movement of infected animals. In sheep the symptoms can be absent or very mild, and undetected infected sheep can be an important source of infection.

The virus is also extremely transmissible on materials. It can be moved from one area to another on vehicles, goods (including clothing and footwear).

What would happen immediately if FMD was detected in Australia?

Authorities will implement a livestock standstill in the first 72 hours of an outbreak, meaning movement of any livestock anywhere in Australia would be prohibited.

Other actions to follow if disease was subsequently confirmed on a farm or site would include:

  • humane destruction and disposal of infected animals
  • decontamination of infected premises
  • tracing and surveillance
  • a public awareness program
  • other strategies (if required) such as vaccination if there was agreement if that was a suitable course of action.

What does a livestock standstill involve?

During a livestock standstill, you must not commence new movements of any animals at risk of infection off a property, or receive any at-risk animals onto a property that commenced movement after the livestock standstill was declared.

No new journeys with livestock will be allowed.

It will mean saleyards will have to implement plans where livestock can't move from pens. Livestock will remain at the site initially but any visitors to the saleyard will be permitted to move off and deep cleaning would be carried out.

Any trucks or utes with livestock will either head to their destination or return to where they came back from, dependent on animal welfare considerations or state border restrictions.

Animals on the way to slaughter would continue to the relevant processing facility. Animals already at a slaughterhouse would continue to be slaughtered.

Livestock welfare will remain a priority, and you are not permitted to abandon livestock or leave livestock loaded on a vehicle indefinitely. You will still have a duty of care to ensure the animals are delivered and unloaded at an appropriate approved destination.

Can the virus spread to humans?

FMD is not a public health concern and meat is safe to consume.

Infection in people is extremely rare and would require close contact with an infected animal or product. Infection cannot occur by eating meat from infected animals.

FMD is not the same as hand-foot-and-mouth disease which is a common disease in young children.

Although FMD has no direct public health implications with regard to infection, an outbreak in Australia will have a devastating impact on affected livestock owners, rural workers, and communities. Serious social stresses and impacts would be expected.

Is meat safe to eat?

FMD is not a food safety concern. It cannot be transmitted to humans through consuming commercially produced meat, milk or dairy products.

Commercially produced meat, milk and dairy products would continue to be safe to consume in an FMD outbreak.

For more information, visit the FSANZ website.

Can I hold my event?

FMD is currently not present in Australia, so there are no restrictions on holding events due to FMD in Indonesia.

You should always consider biosecurity practices when planning events with animals. Regular revision of your property biosecurity plan is a necessary part of responsible farm management.

A suggested guide for a Show and Event Biosecurity Plan is available in the resources section of ASA’s website.

What are the clinical signs of FMD in animals?

FMD generally does not cause mortality in adult animals, but it can kill young animals due to heart damage, and cause serious production losses.

Clinical disease commences with fever followed by the appearance of vesicles (fluid-filled blisters) between the toes and on the heels, on mammary glands and particularly on the lips, tongue and palate. Over time, these may join to form large ulcers which usually heal over a period of  approximately 10 days.

Foot lesions cause lameness and mouth lesions can impair animals from normal eating and drinking.

Adults usually begin eating again after a few days, but young animals may weaken and die, or be left with foot deformities or permanent damage to the mammary glands.

What do I do if I suspect FMD in my animals?

Foot-and-mouth disease is a notifiable exotic disease and any suspected or confirmed cases must be reported immediately to Agriculture Victoria on the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888 (24 hours, 7 days a week), to your local Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare staff or your local private veterinarian.

Avoid close contact with any sick animals to minimize the risk of spread until testing can determine if FMD virus is present.

How can I reduce the risk of spread?

The most significant risk of entry of FMD into Australia is through illegal entry of meat and dairy products infected with the FMD virus and subsequent illegal feeding of these products (swill) to pigs.

People can also carry the virus on themselves, on contaminated boots, hands and clothing and potentially transmit disease between animals. This is important as many people will keep susceptible animals of their own. Good hygiene, appropriate use and decontamination of PPE and thoroughly washing/disinfecting yourself and any materials/vehicles before leaving an infected property will protect you from spreading the virus to other people or animals.

Increased biosecurity measures and standards must be immediately implemented by all relevant animal industries across Australia when an FMD outbreak is declared, even on properties where infection has not been confirmed.

All vehicles and drivers entering premises with susceptible animals will be required to comply with biosecurity protocols to prevent transmission. Vehicle movements between farms should be kept to a minimum. Regular, routine vehicle movements onto farms, such as those for fodder deliveries and milk pick-ups will require particular attention due to the essential nature of these movements and their frequency.

Agents that destroy the FMD virus include sunlight, and acid and alkaline disinfectants such as citric acid, sodium hydroxide (caustic soda) and sodium carbonate (washing soda). A public awareness program for FMD will provide risk-based and specific instruction on disinfection requirements at the onset of an outbreak.

What can I do to protect Victoria from FMD?

Biosecurity is everyone’s role and requires responsible actions by everyone. We all need to help protect our agriculture, our economy and our unique natural environment.

It’s not enough to rely on quarantine inspections to stop potential pests and disease threats at our borders. When buying food and other goods online, always consider where they are coming from and whether they will meet biosecurity requirements before ordering them.

All visitors to Australia should also play their part in helping to keep FMD and other diseases and pests out of Australia. Any visitors to countries where FMD is present, and not just Indonesia, must wash their footwear before departing and also wash clothes that may have been in contact with livestock or livestock products.

Livestock owners should ensure that visitors clean their boots and wear clean clothing before allowing them onto your property. Minimise the level of contact visitors have with livestock. Wash down equipment and vehicles before leaving any property where livestock are kept.

If a visitor has been to a country where FMD is present, they should not enter a farm in Australia for at least 7 days.

I’ve just returned to Victoria from a destination where FMD occurs. What should I do?

Biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility, and it’s important to follow the right biosecurity practices when returning to Australia from overseas.

The federal Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has advice to travellers returning from countries with FMD.

What are the impacts of an outbreak of FMD?

The economic effects of an outbreak of FMD, even on a small scale, would be enormous to individuals, the farming industry as a whole, and support industries.

Direct effects on Australia’s major livestock industries would stem from export market closures and the disruption to production associated with the disease and response activities.

There would be significant flow-on losses to many rural and regional businesses that rely on livestock industry revenue — for example, from the impact of movement restrictions on the routine movement of livestock in Australia.

In addition, it is expected that there would be indirect effects on sectors such as tourism as a result of customer perceptions and the general downturn of the rural economy.

There would also be significant social costs. At the individual and family level, the social impacts could range from emotional strains on family relationships to severe mental disorders. At the community level, impacts could range from a breakdown of normal community activities, during quarantine and movement restrictions, to changes in interpersonal relationships, affecting longer term community cohesion.

Why aren’t we vaccinating livestock against FMD?

Currently Australia is recognised as ‘free from FMD, without vaccination’. This allows Australia’s international trade to continue. If vaccination were implemented, Australia would lose this status, which would affect trade.

What is the government’s response to FMD?

The government’s response to FMD will aim to quickly eradicate the disease through a combination of strategies including:

  • quarantine and movement controls, including an initial national livestock standstill
  • destruction and disposal of infected animals
  • decontamination of infected premises
  • tracing and surveillance
  • a public awareness program
  • other strategies, (if required), such as vaccination.

How can I improve biosecurity at my property?

Agriculture Victoria has advice to improve your biosecurity at your property.

See practical biosecurity steps on your farm.

Further information

Page last updated: 29 Jul 2022