The viral infection killing cattle

Source: By Rishika Singh: The Indian Express

Over the last few weeks, nearly 3,000 cattle have died in Rajasthan and Gujarat due to a viral infection called the Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) that has spread across the states. Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel visited the affected areas in Kutch to review the situation.

At the same time, Bhavya Verma, District Development Officer of Kutch, told The Indian Express that the rate of daily infections has started stabilising of late, and the region was “past the peak of the surge of LSD”.

The Gujarat government banned the transport of livestock out of 14 affected districts. Around 11 lakh cattle have been vaccinated against the disease, and the National Dairy Development Board has supplied 28 lakh doses of goat pox vaccine to Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab, bought from a private entity called Hester Biosciences. A toll-free helpline – 1962 – has also been activated to guide cattle-herders and dairy farmers to tackle the disease.

What is the Lumpy Skin Disease?

According to a report by GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, the Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) disease is caused by a virus called the Capripoxvirus and is “an emerging threat to livestock worldwide”. It is genetically related to the goatpox and sheeppox virus family.

LSD infects cattle and water buffalo mainly through vectors such as blood-feeding insects. Signs of infection include the appearance of circular, firm nodes on the animal’s hide or skin that look similar to lumps.

Infected animals immediately start losing weight and may have fever and lesions in the mouth, along with a reduced milk yield. Other symptoms include excessive nasal and salivary secretion. Pregnant cows and buffaloes often suffer miscarriage and in some cases, diseased animals can die due to it as well.

Have such outbreaks occurred earlier; and are humans at risk?

This is not the first time LSD has been detected in India. The disease has been endemic in most African countries, and since 2012 it has spread rapidly through the Middle East, Southeast Europe and West and Central Asia. Since 2019, several outbreaks of LSD have been reported in Asia. In May this year, Pakistan’s Punjab also reported the deaths of over 300 cows due to LSD.

In September 2020, a strain of the virus was discovered in Maharashtra. Gujarat too has reported cases over the last few years sporadically, but currently, the point of concern is the number of deaths being reported, and whether vaccination catches up to the rate at which the disease is spreading.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), of which India is a member, mortality rates of 1 to 5 per cent are considered usual. The disease is not zoonotic, meaning it does not spread from animals to humans, and humans cannot get infected with it.

While the virus does not spread to humans, “milk produced by an infected animal will be fit for human consumption after boiling or pasteurisation as these processes will kill the viruses, if any, in the milk”, said Prof J B Kathiriya, Assistant Professor with the department of veterinary public health and epidemiology of Kamdhenu University’s College of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry in Junagadh.

How can the spread of the disease be prevented?

Successful control and eradication of LSD relies on “early detection…followed by a rapid and widespread vaccination campaign”, as per the WOAH. Once an animal has recovered, it is well protected and cannot be the source of infection for other animals.

In his interview with The Indian Express, Prof J B Kathiriya, also spoke about the measures to protest against the viral infection. He said: “The first thing is, they should sanitise cattle-sheds by eliminating vectors through application of insecticides and spraying disinfectant chemicals. They should isolate the infected cattle immediately from the healthy stock and contact the nearest veterinarian for treatment of the infected animal. This is necessary as otherwise the virus may prove fatal.”

Secondly, they should report the outbreak to the state government so that the rest of the healthy herd can be vaccinated using goat pox vaccine,” said Prof Kathiriya. He added that cattle with healthy immune systems will recover from the disease in some days.

Another challenge is the disposal of the dead animals as improper handling of the carcasses can cause health and sanitation issues. Proper disposal of the carcasses can include incineration or burning of the bodies at high temperatures, along with disinfection of premises, as per the WOAH.