A major study is to be carried out looking at the emotional, social and psychological impacts of Mycoplasma bovis on Southern farmers and farming communities.
The exotic disease spreads through cattle herds and last year the Government introduced a programme to attempt to eradicate the disease by culling infected cattle.
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University of Otago researchers said the two-year study will look at the impact of the eradication programme on farmers directly, and the wider community more generally.
Senior Research Fellow from the Section of Rural Health in the Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Dr Fiona Doolan-Noble, said the disease has meant a huge loss on many levels.
"For the farmers themselves, one day their herd is there and the next morning they wake up and they've all gone," she said.
"It's an emotional loss, a sensory loss and a financial loss until compensation is received and they can start building up their herd again," said Dr Doolan-Noble.
She said others within rural communities are also affected, from agricultural suppliers and small rural businesses through to community groups.
The researchers said studies from the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak in the United Kingdom show the outbreak was "not just an animal tragedy but also a human one".
UK research identified feelings of distress and bereavement, concerns of a new disaster, loss of faith in authority and control systems and annoyance at the undermining of local knowledge.
Dr Doolan-Noble said the foot and mouth outbreak was contained within seven months, but Mycoplasma bovis is more difficult to control and may take years to eradicate.
"The fact that it could drag on for a long time introduces another complexity," she explained.
"Farming is at the core of many rural communities and when it takes a hit, the whole community gets hit."
The study in Otago and Southland is due to start in April, and is funded by a $120,000 Lotteries grant. It will be co-ordinated by Dr Doolan-Noble, veterinarian and director of VetSouth in Winton Mark Bryan, and medical anthropologist in the Department of General Practice and Rural Health, Associate Professor Chrys Jaye.
The researchers will be working with multiple groups in the community and information will be collected via interviews, logs kept by participants, and analysis of media coverage, and social media sites.
It is hoped results from the study will help to inform the government's management of the current outbreak and add to the limited body of research, helping future decision making in exotic disease responses.