Strengthening the Territory’s biosecurity preparedness

The Northern Territory’s (NT) capacity to respond to Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) has increased with Department of Primary Industry and Resources veterinarian, Megan Pickering, completing intensive FMD training in Nepal.

Ms Pickering, Veterinary Officer with the department’s Livestock Biosecurity Branch in Katherine, joined 10 other Australian vets and five Nepali vets on a European Commission for the Control of Foot and Mouth Disease (EuFMD) training course.

The course, delivered by EuFMD on behalf of the Australian Government, covered a range of aspects in FMD preparedness and detection, including:

  • theory of transmission, quarantine and disinfection protocols
  • biosecurity preparation for field visits
  • a field visit to examine a range of animals with FMD at various stages of the disease
  • interviews with local people on recently infected premises.

FMD is a highly contagious viral illness that affects animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs.

The course was purpose built to equip countries free from FMD, like Australia, with an incident-ready veterinary workforce to minimise any future potential outbreaks.

The estimated cost of a small-scale, contained FMD outbreak in Australia is $7 billion over 12 months. A large scale outbreak could cost the country more than $50 billion.

The EuFMD training has now been delivered to over 300 Australian and New Zealand vets, ensuring stronger national capability in recognising FMD, managing risks, conducting tracing and correctly sampling the disease.

There are now five EuFMD trained personnel in the Northern Territory. Ms Pickering manages disease investigation and surveillance services for the livestock industry. Her skills in leadership and management have been strengthened by the training, enhancing leadership and management in the event of an emergency response.

“I found the training to be interesting, informative and applicable both to the specific threat of FMD and more broadly to emergency animal disease preparedness,” Ms Pickering said.

“Although FMD is predominantly spread from animal to animal through contaminated body fluids, it can also be easily transmitted from humans to animals via clothing, footwear, equipment and vehicles.”

“It is important that those on farms are eternally vigilant when it comes to biosecurity. This includes vehicle wash-downs and disinfecting clothes, shoes and equipment.”

Ms Pickering stressed the importance in public awareness when it comes to protecting Australia from serious diseases.

“One of the major areas we need to increase public awareness is in why swill feeding to pigs is illegal. Swill feeding is one of the easiest ways serious diseases like FMD can enter the food chain.”

The NT Government is committed to developing workforce capacity in the early detection and rapid response to animal diseases, which in turn safeguards the national livestock industry from biosecurity threats.

Veterinary officers walk through a field in Nepal
Megan Pickering recently completed intensive Foot and Mouth Disease training in Nepal.