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Foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks hit city’s dairy farms

February 09, 2019

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THREE of the buffaloes infected by the foot-and-mouth disease at a farm.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
THREE of the buffaloes infected by the foot-and-mouth disease at a farm.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Foot-and-mouth disease has hit more than 100 dairy farms in the city, most of which are located in Bhains Colony and along the Superhighway, sources told Dawn on Friday.

Most infected animals severely weakened by the disease, they said, were being sold for slaughtering purposes by farmers to avoid losses.

The World Organisation for Health Animal, however, suggests humane destruction of all infected, recovered and FMD-susceptible contact animals and their safe disposal.

“We have recorded FMD outbreaks at 150 dairy farms in Karachi over the past three months. These farms were located in Bhains Colony and along the Superhighway,” Dr Nasrullah Panhwar, National Field Officer of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for Control of FMD, confirmed the report.

Explaining further, he said even if one FMD case was detected, it was considered as an outbreak since it spread very quickly.

Responding to a question, he said that while FMD was a severe, highly contagious disease and had very serious implications for animal farming, virus transmission to humans through infected animals and their derivative products was rare.

According to him, FMD outbreaks strike city’s dairy farms especially those located in Bhains Colony, an area considered a reservoir of foot-and-mouth disease, every winter. But, their intensity has been successfully reduced over the years through a FAO project.

“It wasn’t so serious last year, though there were cases. The FAO project carried out from 2001 till 2017 helped us a lot in containing it,” he explained, adding that the FAO project had now been renewed with limited funds from the Japanese government.

On project’s operation, he said it had support from the Sindh government livestock department and farmers were provided with free vaccination service for 100 animals. The rest had to be taken care of by them.

“They need to ensure that animals receive a booster dose after a month followed by a dose after every six month,” he said, adding that non-compliance with vaccination regime would make animals vulnerable to disease.

According to Dr Panhwar, treatment for FMD is available in the local market which costs around Rs10,000. Once treated, the animal is able to produce milk.

‘Farmers’ losses’

Animals suffering from FMD were found in pitiable condition at some affected farms in Bhains Colony. Speaking to Dawn, farmers blamed cattle sellers in Punjab from where they brought and purchased most of their animals for the disease outbreaks.

Blisters cover the tongue of a buffalo infected by FMD.—White Star
Blisters cover the tongue of a buffalo infected by FMD.—White Star

“They should have vaccinated their animals before selling to us. We can’t vaccinate animals during transport as they are in stress,” Abdullah, a dairy farmer, said, adding that often animals developed disease symptoms whey they were vaccinated in Karachi, indicating either the animal was already carrying the virus or got infected at Bhains Colony.

They claimed that the disease was having crippling effect on their businesses, forcing many of them to resort to what they described as ‘emergency slaughtering’.

“The affected animal suffers severe weight loss and get so weakened that it’s no longer viable for milk production. Besides, farmers have to rely on costly imported vaccines as no local vaccine is available for the disease,” said Shakir Umar Gujjar represent Dairy and Cattle Farmers Association.

Shaukat Mukhtar representing Dairy Farmers Association said that the FAO project earlier launched greatly helped farmers who shared half of the vaccination cost with the organisation.

“But, now the FAO says that the government should come forward and bear half of the cost with us. If this support is provided to us, we can successfully control this disease again,” he said.

The 2014 FAO data shows that Karachi reported 954 outbreaks of the disease out of the total 1,119 and 2,591 outbreaks occurred from across Sindh and the rest of the country, respectively.

Karachi reported to have the highest viral load of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the country.

Experts believed that this was mainly due to commercial dairy farming being practised on a large scale in unhygienic and cramped conditions in the city.

During the same year, 362 outbreaks of FMD were recorded in Punjab, while 294 and 151 outbreaks of the disease were recorded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, respectively.

According to experts, movement of animals is the primary source of transmission, but people can also transmit the virus from one place to another if they visit an infected area and do not change clothes.

It is estimated that round 30,000 to 40,000 animals are transported monthly from other parts of the country to the Landhi Cattle Colony which has the largest number of commercial dairy farms in Pakistan.

The FMD virus mutates very quickly and any change in its structure makes the vaccine ineffective. Therefore, it is very important to monitor the virus and know its exact sub-serotype.

The FMD, at times fatal, affects cloven-hoofed animals, including domestic and wild bovids. The virus causes a high fever for between two and six days, followed by blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that may rupture and cause lameness.

It can spread by infected animals comparatively easily through contact with contaminated farming equipment, vehicles, clothing, feed and by domestic and wild predators.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2019