Cattle remaining after Queensland's devastating floods could fall victim to a mosquito borne viral outbreak within days - according to Australia's Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp.
He says the unprecedented disaster that's already claimed tens of thousands of cattle, is expected to worsen in the next three to four days.
Usually bovine ephemeral fever, known as the "three-day sickness", kills one per cent of affected cattle.
“Given the condition of the [flood-bound] cattle, we anticipate a lot more animals will die because of their inability to move to food and water," Dr Schipp said.
With livestock and farm infrastructure lost to the widespread flooding - after years of drought - the disease could be the final blow for Queensland farmers.
Roma grazier Janet Reddan says the disease is carried by mosquitos and biting midges and affects animals anytime there is substantial rain in summer.
“In 2010 and 2012 we lost more cattle after the floods due to three day sickness than we did [in] the floods," she said.
While Roma is still in drought, Ms Reddan feels for farmers in the state's far north but says the three day sickness won’t just be in the flooded area.
"It will be in any area that’s had substantial rain because the mosquitos breed in pools of water."
It’s one thing to lose your stock due to flooding but when the losses continue – you can’t use words to describe what’s happening up [there].
"Imagine walking out there and finding all your horses dead, your cattle dead - you’ve got no income, you’ve got bills to pay, you’ve got all your fences down. They’ve wiped out their income. At least with a drought you’ve got the opportunity to sell your cattle before it’s too late.”
The Federal Government issued biosecurity warnings yesterday (February 12), with fears humans are at risk of contracting diseases from the decaying carcasses.
Farmers who are in contact with sick and dying livestock are warned to wear protective clothing and to keep their children from playing in muddy puddles.
Although ground water (bore water) is deemed safe due to its great depth in Northern Queensland, surface water is at risk of contamination.
“Every dead cow discharges 150 -160 litres of bodily fluid into the waterways,” Dr Schipp said.
Another risk to humans that we're particularly concerned about is botulism. There are a lot of carcasses and decaying matter.
“Often homesteads are built on higher ground - animals move towards homesteads during flooding. Farmers want to care for their animals, some of which [are family pets].”
The burial of carcasses required to stop the disease spread is currently impossible with farms and machinery still mired in water and mud. - Wendy John