Overseas travel exposes you to wonderful new experiences, but it can also expose you to potentially serious health risks. Biosecurity measures are important to protect Australia's border.

Page last updated: 22 June 2016

Table of Contents

What is biosecurity?

Biosecurity refers to all the measures taken to minimise the risk of infectious diseases caused by viruses, bacteria or other micro-organisms entering and establishing in Australia, potentially harming the Australian population, our food security and economy.

Common biosecurity measures are:

  • Asking Captains of aircraft and ships to notify the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, (Agriculture Biosecurity) of any ill travellers who are on an aircraft before it lands or a ship before it docks.
  • Fact Sheet: Reporting an illness or death - Important quarantine information for crew of international ships and aircraft.
  • Agriculture Biosecurity Officers meeting very ill travellers on incoming aircrafts and ships to determine if they are carrying a serious infectious disease. This allows people to be referred for immediate medical attention if they are carrying a particularly serious disease such as Yellow Fever.
  • Providing information to travellers about what symptoms to look out for immediately after they return from overseas and how to seek medical attention if they are unwell.

Why do health authorities implement biosecurity measures?

When people travel they can develop infections through food, water, insect bites, contact with animals or contact with other people. Often a person does not know they have developed an infectious disease until they become unwell days or weeks later. Symptoms of an infection might only develop, or become serious, after a person has returned to Australia.

Some of the diseases at which biosecurity measures are directed are rare and/or serious, such as Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (VHFs) or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Some more familiar diseases are also important because outbreaks can occur if they are introduced by an unwell traveller. Diseases of concern under the Biosecurity Act 2015 include:

  • Human influenza with pandemic potential
  • Plague
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
  • Middle East respiratory syndrome
  • Smallpox
  • Viral haemorrhagic fevers
  • Yellow Fever (in Northern Australia)

Information about where a person has travelled and whether they are feeling unwell when they arrive in Australia may be required so that public health authorities can provide advice on seeking appropriate medical attention. It also allows people to be informed about how to avoid exposing their family, friends, co-workers or the community to the risk of spreading an infectious disease. All infectious diseases are different, and it is important that travellers who are unwell have access to specialist public health advice as soon as possible.

The accuracy of information provided by travellers when they return to Australia, and people promptly seeking medical attention if they become unwell in the period immediately after their return to Australia, are both critical in preventing the spread of introduced infectious diseases.

Ill travellers

If you show symptoms of an infectious disease while travelling to Australia the Biosecurity Act 2015 requires that the Captain/Master reports this to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, Biosecurity Officers before arrival in Australia. If your illness has been reported an Agriculture, Biosecurity Officer may board your ship or aircraft to assess you and ask you a number of questions. Information on how your personal information will be managed is detailed in the Traveller with Illness Checklist Privacy Notice, which is available below: