Understanding the bigger picture of foot-and-mouth disease

February 18th, 2019

A great deal of effort goes into ensuring Australia is prepared for an emergency animal disease (EAD) outbreak, such as foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). For Dr Jacquelyn Horsington, working on the pathogenesis and the prevention of FMD and related viruses has been the focus of her career.

Dr Horsington started working with the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in 2013 on the FMD Risk Management Project. This project has since become part of the FMD Ready project, which commenced in 2016 and aims to improve surveillance, preparedness and return to trade from EAD incursions, using FMD as a model.

Over the past 4 years, Dr Horsington has witnessed a number of changes as a result of these projects.

“We have a really cohesive group of researchers and things we’ve leant along the way have led to improved consistency in the project trials. Changes to how we report results have also meant that research findings can reach a broader audience,” Dr Horsington said.

Interestingly, the most significant change Dr Horsington has observed is in relation to the FMD vaccination of pigs.

“Control of FMD is a problem in many countries that have large pig populations, such as our neighbours in South-East Asia. Our work has shown that vaccination against FMD in pigs can be less effective than in cattle and sheep, taking longer to work and giving varied results, with some pigs protected against infection while others are not.

“So, we started to look at alternatives in the literature including the response of pigs to vaccination against other diseases. We could then see that there was value in comparing intradermal vaccines with traditional intramuscular vaccination,” Dr Horsington said.

For the past 18 months, Dr Horsington has been working with the aim of accessing an intradermal FMD vaccine that works better than the current intramuscular FMD vaccines in pigs.

“For Australia, having an FMD vaccine for pigs that works both quickly and effectively would mean that the vaccination of pigs may become an option in the event of an FMD outbreak, helping to limit the spread and reduce the size of the outbreak.

“Use of this vaccination route in neighbouring countries also has the potential to reduce the risk of FMD entering Australia. The intradermal vaccine is potentially cheaper due to a smaller volume and causes less carcass damage than intramuscular vaccines, which makes it more appealing to farmers,” she said.

For Dr Horsington, working on a project that can make a difference to Australia’s understanding of pigs and their immune system has been a rewarding experience.

“It’s been exciting to learn new techniques and work on something different and innovative. It’s helped me to look at the bigger picture and the impact science has on our thinking around FMD,” she said.

The FMD Ready project is supported by Meat & Livestock Australia, through funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research & Development for Profit program, and by producer levies from Australian FMD-susceptible livestock (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs) industries and Charles Sturt University (CSU), leveraging significant in-kind support from the research partners.

The research partners for this project are the CSIRO, CSU through the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, supported by Animal Health Australia.

For more information about the FMD Ready project visit http://research.csiro.au/fmd/

*Originally published in theAustralian Veterinary Journal: Aust Vet J 2018;96(7):N12.