October 4, 2013


Foot and mouth disease threatens India's milk production



Over the last one month, the surging cattle death cases in India, due to foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak, could badly affect the country's milk production, unless the government takes steps to control the outbreak.


While concern is rising as infected livestock often give no milk until they are fully recovered, veterinary experts say the outbreak of FMD in livestock at this time of the year is peculiar as it is usually seen in the months of May and June.


Yathiraj S, dean of the Veterinary College and Hospital, Hebbal, however, feels that the untimely rainfall experienced this year could have helped the viral organisms survive for longer. "Although the state has a vaccination project for the cross- breed livestock, are all being covered? The vaccination needs to be administered once in four months but in India it is given once in six months or once in a year," he said.


Pointing out that the cross breed and high yielding variety of livestock like sheep, goat and pigs are highly susceptible to the disease, he warns that once the livestock is infected with FMD, milk production usually falls.


Nagaraj Shetty, director of the animal husbandry department, reassures that the viral infection is a temporary phenomenon and the outbreak can be controlled. "Around 250,000 livestock are vaccinated against FMD once in six months. And although the next vaccination was scheduled for February, we have started vaccinating the cattle already due to the sudden outbreak of the disease," he adds.


FMD is viral and highly contagious. The cross breed and high yielding variety of livestock like sheep, goat and pigs are highly susceptible as are elephants. FMD, found more in cloven footed animals, could be spread by air or water borne virus or through food (grass).


Vaccination is the only way out. It needs to be given once in six months. About five years ago the vaccine coverage was poor, but now with the Government of India introducing a vaccination project in 2011-12 that also covers the entire South India peninsula region, the vaccination is almost 100%. But this is not enough. To achieve herd immunity, the vaccination needs to be done regularly for two to three years.


And even if there is a mild infection, preventive and extra precautionary measures need to be taken by farmers and milchers. If there is oral cavity and foot injury in the livestock, these need to be washed with an alkaline solution of an antiseptic to keep the virus away. Also, vaccination should be made compulsory for zoo animals too as all animals within a 10-kilometre radius of the infected ones are susceptible to the virus.


However, FMD is non-communicable to human beings and since most of us in cities have pasteurised milk and pressurised meat there is no chance of FMD spreading among people.


Wildlife too is under threat from FMD. In the nineties an outbreak of the disease in the Great Indian gaur left their numbers hugely depleted and it took several years for them to return to their original strength. Conservationists therefore warn against any delay in eradicating the virus in cattle found around forests as it can infect wild animals too.


Pointing out that the virus can travel up to five kilometres in the air, they say unless the cattle in villages around forests are kept free from FMD, their wildlife remains under threat. Most susceptible to FMD are elephants, boars, spotted deer, sambar and the Great Indian gaur. As most cloven footed animals live in herds, the spread of virus is faster among them, they explain.


Although wildlife areas in the state have been put on high alert since the recent outbreak of the disease among cattle, conservationists fear this may not be enough to protect the animals in the jungles. They insist that besides keeping a check on cattle in the surrounding villages, the forest department must ensure that domestic cattle do not enter the wildlife areas for grazing, as is common in the Nagarhole and Bandipur sanctuaries.


The other fear is that death or infection of herbivore animals could affect the food chain of the carnivores of the jungles as tigers, leopards and dholes mainly prey on them for their food.

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