Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Livestock diseases in the news: Hendra and FMD

July 30, 2012

Horse in coat feedingWith infected horses being put down in central Queensland, this year’s Hendra virus season is well and truly under way. Meanwhile the release of the Mathews Report – A review of Australia’s Preparedness for the Threat of Foot-and-mouth Disease – has brought the greatest exotic disease risk to our country firmly into focus.With this in mind, it is important to remember that prevention is always better than cure.

There are steps all producers can take to reduce the risk of both diseases entering their property.


The Hendra virus is transmitted by flying foxes to horses through infected urine, faeces and saliva contaminating pasture and drinking water, especially in the northern half of Australia. The Hendra virus can then be passed to humans through contact with infected horses. While an animal vaccine is about to be trialled, there is currently no specific treatment for people or horses infected with Hendra. Therefore, it is important to follow a number of straightforward biosecurity measures in risk-prone areas:  

  • Remove horse feed and water containers from under trees and, if possible, place under a shelter.
  • Inspect and identify flowering/fruiting trees on your property. Remove horses from paddocks where these trees are attracting flying foxes.
  • If you cannot remove horses from the paddock, consider fencing (temporary or permanent) to restrict access. Clean up any fruit debris underneath the trees before returning horses.
  • Isolate sick horses from other horses, people and animals until you obtain a veterinarian´s opinion.
  • If you have more than one horse on your property, handle healthy horses first. Then handle sick horses only after taking appropriate precautions (e.g. personal protective equipment).
  • Clean and disinfect all gear exposed to any body fluids from horses before using it on another horse.
  • When cleaning contaminated equipment, protect yourself by wearing gloves, covering any cuts or grazes and washing your hands thoroughly afterwards.
  • Do not travel with, work on or take sick horses to other properties or equestrian events.
  • Do not allow visiting horse practitioners (e.g. farriers) to work on sick horses.
  • Seek veterinary advice before bringing any sick horse onto your property.

The best protection against horse diseases and pests is to have a biosecurity plan in place for your property or venue. Whether you own just one horse or manage a racing complex holding hundreds, the Horse Venue Biosecurity Workbook will help you design and implement measures appropriate for your property.

Foot and mouth disease (FMD)

Australia has been free of FMD for over a century, but an outbreak would result in the immediate closure of many of our major export markets for livestock and livestock products. The Mathews Report has estimated that a small FMD outbreak, controlled in 3 months, could cost around $7.1 billion, while a large 12 month outbreak would cost $16 billion.

 FMD is endemic and occasionally breaks out in a number of countries in our region, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and China. All travellers, especially those returning to Australian farms from countries where there has either been a recent outbreak, or where FMD is endemic, are strongly urged to be aware of the risk factors for spreading the disease and the biosecurity measures that provide protection.

A farm biosecurity checklist can be used to reduce the FMD risk:

  • Meet all import requirements on imported food products and genetic material.
  • Ensure you and your staff are familiar with the early symptoms of FMD and know how to report them.
  • Assess farm visitors on their level of FMD risk and maintain records of visitors.
  • Restrict visitor access to livestock areas to necessary contact only.
  • ensure clothing and equipment are clean (and disinfected) before entering a property
  • Regularly check livestock for changes in health and behaviour.
  • Report any unusual behaviour or signs of disease to the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline: 1800 675 888.

Most importantly however, do not feed swill to pigs. Swill can be broadly defined as material of mammal origin or any substance that has come in contact with this material. Swill feeding is considered the mostly likely way that FMD would enter the country and is illegal in Australia.