Countering the threat of lumpy skin disease to Australia

16 May 2022

Figure from NSW Department of Planning, Industry & Environment

Useful resources

Actions to date by the Department of Agriculture,Water and the Environment 

May 2022

In response to the reports of lumpy skin disease (LSD) in Indonesia, the Department of Agriculture,Water and the Environment established an LSD taskforce. The taskforce’s activities include:

  • coordinating and overseeing the department’s LSD preparedness, response and communications activities.
  • development of a draft National LSD action plan to be finalised and implemented through consultation and targeted working groups drawn from industry and the states and territories.
  • supporting government-industry roundtables and webinar about the risks of LSD to Australia’s industries and what actions are required to prepare for and prevent spread of the disease in Australia.
Risk assessment & management
  • Due to the presence of LSD in Indonesia and Singapore, all imports of LSD-risk products were suspended from both countries.
  • The department reviewed all dairy-related products already imported into Australia from Indonesia and Singapore to determine if any product recall was required.
  • The department assessed sea containers and equipment for risk, using available data on volume and specific ports. Risk management measures were applied where appropriate.
  • Border biosecurity risks were managed for incoming air and sea passengers, imported cargo and mail items.
  • Industry and the department’s biosecurity officers were formally advised to be vigilant in managing the biosecurity risk of returning livestock vessels from Indonesia.
  • The department is funding risk assessments for LSD entering Timor-Leste and Australia. Results of these risk assessments will be used to guide next steps.
Support for Indonesia
  • The department, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), provided funding to assist Indonesia with the procurement of LSD vaccine following a request from Indonesia’s Ministry of Agriculture for support.
  • The Australian Chief Veterinary Officer (ACVO) visited Indonesia in March 2022 to discuss and offer assistance for their LSD outbreak and response. The ACVO and the deputy ACVO will visit Indonesia again in May 2022.
  • The department is also engaging with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Indonesia who are supporting Indonesia’s efforts to control the spread of the disease. Discussions are also occurring with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) (who have an office in Indonesia) to identify possible industry support that may be provided in country.
  • The department continues to offer assistance and has funds available as part of the support.
Laboratory and diagnostics
  • The department is funding the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) to fast-track and roll-out National LSD diagnostic capability and proficiency testing for state and territory laboratories.
  • The department is funding a range of ACDP projects to further develop their LSD diagnostic capacity. This includes assessment of LSD serological assays to determine which are most fit for purpose (ELISA tests), development of improved whole genome sequencing capacity for LSD, and improving available immunohistochemistry tests.
Preparedness
  • Regional engagement
    • The ACVO contacted an OIE Regional Representative seeking advice on whether any vaccine campaigns might be considered for LSD, or any other related activities might be planned for the region.
    • Departmental officers travelled to Timor-Leste in April 2022 to assist with LSD awareness planning and diagnostics.
    • The department is funding a consultancy to assist Timor-Leste with the development of LSD surveillance and preparedness plans.
    • Departmental officers are travelling to Papua New Guinea in June 2022 and will discuss LSD preparedness with counterpart officers.

Vaccination

  • The department is reviewing available vaccines for suitability for use in Australia.
  • The department is progressing steps towards obtaining an emergency use permit for an LSD vaccine to use during an outbreak of LSD.
  • The department is looking at the steps required to safely import live LSDV to enable testing of overseas vaccine candidates and for future vaccine development.
  • The department is planning a discovery phase for new technology vaccines.

Surveillance

  • LSD is a priority disease for the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS). Recent actions include:
    • actively raising community awareness about LSD.
    • testing and examining feral bovids for LSD as part of their feral animal surveys.

Trade

  • The department is evaluating export commodities and markets which may be at risk from an LSD outbreak to improve our preparedness and ability to manage any trade implications.
  • The department has reviewed protocols and import permits for markets where live cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats have been exported from Australia in the past 10 years.
  • The department is also evaluating other export commodities and markets which may be at risk.
  • The department is identifying avenues for maintaining trade such as re-negotiation of export certification and trade protocols to include changes to accepted processing practices or commodity treatments to manage risk.  This also includes exploring options for potential acceptance of zoning depending on the nature of any outbreak and Australia’s eradication response.
  • The department is developing contingency arrangements for live animal exports, including livestock vessels in transit, if there is an LSD outbreak in Australia.
Funding

On 23 March 2022, a $61.6 million boost for Northern Australia biosecurity with a focus on LSD and other serious pests and diseases, was announced. This is in addition to budget measures from the 2021 budget which are already funding some LSD initiatives. Current and proposed initiatives are to enhance preparedness and surveillance for vector-borne diseases as well as support regional near neighbouring countries, specifically:

  • accelerated modelling and research on insect vectors to better understand and predict highest risk incursion locations and seasons and guide surveillance
  • accelerated development of LSD diagnostic tests with a focus on northern Australia
  • LSD vaccine preparedness and development
  • offshore collaboration with near neighbours (Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia to enhance their preparedness, and to support response activities for vector-borne diseases (to reduce the risk of an incursion in Australia).

Background                 

Lumpy skin disease is a devastating viral disease of cattle and water buffalo. The disease is not present in Australia but rapidly spread through south Asia in 2021. In March 2022, Indonesia reported cases of lumpy skin disease on the island of Sumatra.

Lumpy skin disease is national notifiable disease which means an animal showing suspect signs of the disease must be reported to a veterinarian or the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888. This number will connect you with your state or territory’s department of primary industries or agriculture. 

For more information about lumpy skin disease go to awe.gov.au/lumpyskin

Communities across Australia’s north, as well as beef, water buffalo, and dairy cattle industries need to be aware of signs of the disease in their animals.

Dr Mark Schipp, Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer warns that a lumpy skin disease incursion would cause severe direct economic losses to Australia’s livestock along with substantial trade impacts.

“If Australia was no longer recognised as being free from lumpy skin disease this would have significant consequences for our beef, water buffalo, and dairy cattle industries, along with substantial trade impacts,” Dr Schipp said.

Infection with lumpy skin disease typically causes an acute disease with fever, depression, and characteristic skin nodules. There may also be a marked reduction in milk yield as well as abortion in pregnant animals.  

The disease is highly infectious and is primarily spread through insect bites such as flies and mosquitoes, and possibly ticks. The disease can also be spread by fomites through such things as contaminated equipment and in some cases directly from animal to animal.

Dr Schipp stated that the disease is present in the region with its continuing spread through South Asia.

“Because this disease is spread through biting insects, and we have a water buffalo population in Australia’s north, it’s absolutely critical that we remain vigilant against the disease and report any suspect cases as a matter of urgency to biosecurity authorities.

“Once it’s in a herd it’s very difficult to eradicate,” he added.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment undertakes a range of activities to manage biosecurity risks to Australia. The Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy works with state and territory governments on targeted surveillance activities and delivers public awareness campaigns to support the early detection of exotic animal diseases such as lumpy skin disease.

The department’s strict livestock importing protocols are designed to minimise the risk of exotic disease incursions, and returning livestock vessels are also managed by department’s biosecurity officers.

Border requirements are in place for incoming air and sea passengers, imported cargo and mail items to ensure the biosecurity risks are managed at the border. Import conditions are reviewed when the level of risk changes.

How you can protect Australia from lumpy skin disease

Dr Schipp said that while the department manages Australia’s biosecurity system, everyone has a critical part to play in stopping the introduction of exotic pests and diseases.

“Illegal and high-risk goods such as untreated cattle skins and hides should not be brought into Australia.”

“Other items can harbour insect vectors which spread disease so know what can and cannot be imported either as a passenger, through international mail or containerised cargo,” he said.

“And, across northern Australia, we ask that veterinarians, cattle producers, livestock industry personnel, Indigenous rangers and the wider community maintain awareness of lumpy skin disease and bolster surveillance.”