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African swine fever
With the world grappling with a human health emergency of a scale not seen in a century, it goes without saying that we’re living through a period that future health authorities will use as a case study. The novel coronavirus, which causes the disease commonly known as COVID-19 has gone from being first identified to having over 290,000 confirmed cases in 187 countries (at the time of publishing) in less than three months, including a number in Australia.
Animal Health Australia’s (AHA) Executive Manager for Biosecurity and Product Integrity, Dr Simon Humphrys, believes it’s a sobering reminder of how far and how quickly a disease outbreak can spread through a population.
Dr Humphrys pointed to the pandemic as a stark reminder to livestock producers of the value of early disease detection, biosecurity to manage disease spread, and emergency disease planning.
“While COVID-19 is not known to infect any species of livestock farmed in Australia, what we’re seeing unfold is a textbook example of what an exotic disease in a susceptible population is capable of,” he said.
“There are a number of other diseases that affect livestock which, if found in Australia, would prompt an immediate emergency response from animal health and biosecurity officials.”
These include diseases like foot and mouth disease, an outbreak of which saw the UK’s livestock industry grind to a halt in 2001; avian influenza, which caused major losses in the poultry industries in the United States during 2015; and African swine fever, whose rapid spread around the world has been making headlines more recently.
“Emergency animal diseases or EADs also include diseases which are new to science, such as Hendra virus, which was first identified in racehorses in the suburbs of Brisbane in the mid-90s,” Dr Humphrys explained.
“While many serious animal diseases are known to us, and fortunately Australia is free from them, it’s fair to say – given recent events – that the next animal health emergency might not be what we expect, nor come from where we expect it to.”
Dr Humphrys is encouraging all producers to consider how an animal disease outbreak might play out on their farm, including who they would notify and what steps they would take.
“We’re fortunate that most livestock don’t travel extensively, don’t mix in large groups as often as people do, and can be readily isolated,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean we can afford to be complacent: all producers should have a risk-based biosecurity management plan, which sets out actions in the event of a suspected EAD outbreak.
“Be ready to press the go button on your plan if you see anything suspicious, report any suspect cases to people that can help you, and follow their instructions to help manage the outbreak.”
Biosecurity practices will vary between different species and different production systems. Visit the relevant pages of the Farm Biosecurity website for your enterprise to find out more.