Foot-and-Mouth Disease, again

Foot-and-Mouth Disease, again

Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) has come back after a century. In fact, a century ago Mauritius was hit by the disease, and the livestock was slaughtered in the same manner as it is being done today to prevent its propagation and contain outbreaks of the disease.

FMD is caused by the highly contagious FMD virus (FMDV; genus Aphthovirus, family Picornaviridae), which poses a continuous threat to global livestock industries and small-holder farming. It affects cloven-hoofed animals like sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and deer. It does not affect non-cloven hoofed animals such as horses, dogs, cats and birds.

On exposure to the virus the susceptible animals show signs of the disease after an incubation period of 3 to 14 days. The symptons are fever, inappetence, and lameness together with characteristic vesicular lesions in the oral cavity and on the feet and udders. Many infected animals die. Those which survive take a long time to recover but do not gain full vitality again. The other problem is that the animals which survive the disease become asymptomatic carriers of the virulent virus. This poses an impediment to the control and eradication of the Foot and Mouth Disease.

The disease is highly infectious. The virus is present in large amounts in the blisters, saliva, urine, manure, milk and breath of affected animals. It is transmitted via direct or indirect contact with infected secretions and excretions (including semen and milk), mechanical vectors (people, horses, dogs, cats, birds, vehicles wool, manure), and air currents over land or water. The virus can also enter the body via inhalation, ingestion, or through skin wounds and mucous membranes. The virus survives in the environment for several weeks. Virus particles can remain in people’s noses for up to 24 hours. All of these are potential vehicles of transmission.

On account of the highly contagious nature of the virus, drastic measures are taken to contain and control the disease right from the moment it is diagnosed. In 1916, infected animals were slaughtered in infected farms throughout the country. The same measure is being resorted to in 2016, with thousands of infected animals and others in the herd being slaughtered and their carcasses buried with the necessary precautions, though incineration would have been the ideal method to safely dispose of the infectious carcasses.

From the past events in Rodrigues and Mauritius it appears that there have been some shortcomings at the level of the Biosecurity. (Biosecurity means protecting the economy, environment, and the community from the negative impacts of pests, disease, and contaminants generally of biological origin.) Biosecurity practices include: disinfecting, signage, maintaining boundary fences, checking for strays, restricting visitors and vehicle movements, ensuring all machinery brought onto the property is cleaned, good husbandry, ensuring purchases are from reliable sources, inspecting the flock or herd regularly, quarantining new stock. In spite of all these measures the disease crept in, implying a weakness somewhere hence the need to revisit our programmes for Biosecurity.

To my reading the concerned party knows where it has failed and the least we can expect is a mea culpa. This will at least give some relief to the breeders, to the religious who venerate cows, to the animal lovers whose heart keep sinking with the ongoing slaughter.

A multi-pronged approach has been adopted by the Ministry of Agro-industry and Food Security to fight the disease, including slaughter of all infected and susceptible animals, strict restriction of animal and vehicle movement around infected premises, proper carcass disposal, environmental disinfection and the use of vaccines.

There have been enough outbreaks worldwide in Africa, UK (2001, 2007), Taiwan (2009), Japan (2010), Korea (2011), India (2013) whence we can learn how to manage the disease. In India, for example, the Animal Husbandry Department gives herbal remedy for foot and mouth disease. It is a concoction of cumin seeds, fenugreek, pepper, ,turmeric, garlic, jaggery and coconut to be given orally and for local application to affected parts.

FMD has a devastating potential. No single method is adequate because of its infectivity, high transmissibility and potential for large economic losses. There is further no shortage of opinions on the subject. Let’s adopt the best professional advice and be better prepared for the future.

Source: Annual Review of Microbiology; Clinical Microbiology Reviews

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