Disease warning for NZ

A North Otago vet has returned from Nepal with a message for every Kiwi about foot-and-mouth disease. Sally Brooker reports. 

Vetlife Oamaru principal Ivan Holloway describes his journey to study foot-and-mouth disease in Nepal as ''the trip of a lifetime''.

Mr Holloway was one of 12 New Zealanders selected to go to Nepal, where the highly-contagious foot-and-mouth virus affects cloven-hoofed animals.

If it got into New Zealand, it would stop all meat and dairy exports. The Ministry for Primary Industries estimated our gross domestic product would lose $13.8 billion a year.

The European Commission for Foot-and-Mouth Disease, part of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation, worked with the ministry to assemble the New Zealand team that was based in Kathmandu from June 2 to 6.

The vets were from Northland, Taranaki, Poverty Bay, Canterbury and Otago, accompanied by DairyNZ representatives from Hawkes Bay and Southland, ministry vets and a ministry senior adviser. said the trip was ''raising awareness, protecting New Zealand for the future'', because we must never become complacent.''

Any incursion would cripple us,'' Mr Holloway said.

He urged everyone who went overseas to be ''open and honest'' in filling out biosecurity forms when they returned. Because foot-and-mouth was rife worldwide and could live for 14 days in dry faeces, it could easily be brought in on footwear.''

The outcomes would be tragic.''

Be prepared to be expect to be inconvenienced a little for the greater good of the country.''

Seeing foot-and-mouth was ''never scary - it was exciting'', Mr Holloway said.''

As a vet, to see such a feared disease ... it was just the ultimate.''

But I wouldn't want to see it in New Zealand. To witness it first hand was just exciting and fascinating, tempered with sympathy for the farmers and the animals.''

Lesions he saw and treated on cattle, goat and water buffalo gums, tongues and feet must have caused the animals a great deal of pain, he said.

The New Zealanders visited small family farms about 65km east of Kathmandu. Each would have a handful of livestock under the house, surrounded by plantings of corn or rice. Foot-and-mouth would halve their milk production and drastically reduce animal growth.

There was often common grazing land in rural villages and several farms could be built adjoining, so foot-and-mouth spread easily, Mr Holloway said. The notion of isolating infected stock and disinfecting areas was difficult to get across.

But with the presence of ''so many serious diseases that kill animals'', the Nepalese were not too alarmed by foot-and-mouth.

The New Zealanders reported to the Nepalese authorities, who have since said they were developing a plan to curb the disease.

''We felt we did add some value in our time there,'' Mr Holloway said.

The study group now knew how to detect foot-and-mouth and trace its development between animals and farms. By working out where it came from and where it had gone, control measures could be put in place.

Another group was expected to be sent away next year. Meanwhile, Mr Holloway and his colleagues would spread their knowledge back here.

''I felt extremely privileged and humbled to be able to go on the training trip, as did all the practitioners,'' he said.

''It strengthens the ability for New Zealand to meet any exotic incursion head-on.

''We must not see it in this country.''