By Petronella Sibeene
The virus strain that caused the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in eastern Caprivi Region two weeks ago has been identified as deadly serotype SAT 2, which if not treated could wipe out entire animal populations, especially small stock.
Results of samples sent to the Botswana Vaccine Institute a fortnight ago showed that the virus strain was identical to that detected in Botswana and Zambia last year and this year respectively.
It was earlier suspected that the disease could have been transmitted from Zambia through rampant smuggling of cattle to and from nearby Zambia.
Veterinary experts said yesterday that they were battling to tame the deadly strain, adding that about 19 000 cattle had so far been vaccinated.
Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer responsible for Animal Disease Control in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, Dr Frans Joubert, yesterday told New Era that animals in areas declared infested were still under quarantine.
He said the vaccination campaign was on track, with very few hurdles encountered so far.
It is hoped that current vaccine is likely to provide protection against the virus causing the disease. So far, no deaths have been reported.
Dr Joubert expressed concern over villagers in the region who continue to try to smuggle meat to other areas, saying that was tantamount to deliberately spreading the disease.
“We have several roadblocks and every day there is a case of someone trying to move meat. We confiscate and burn it,” he said.
The Directorate of Veterinary Services announced the suspension in the movement of all hoofed animals and animal products throughout the whole region until further notice.
Sensitisation campaigns aimed at educating the communities in the affected areas are on course.
“We are trying to talk to the governor, councillors and traditional leaders to speak to the people so that we stop the spread of the disease,” Dr Joubert added.
What is foot-and-mouth disease?
Foot-and-mouth is a virus, which affects animals – very few human cases have ever been recorded.
It is endemic in animals in many parts of the world including Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America.
The disease affects cloven-hoofed animals, in particular cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer.
Foot-and-mouth disease attacks hoofed ruminants, be they domesticated or wild animals.
It has serious implications for animal health and for the economics of the livestock industry.
There are seven different foot-and-mouth disease types – O, A, C, SAT-1, SAT-2, SAT-3 and Asia-1. They show some regionality, with the O type most common.
How does it affect the animals?
The disease causes fever followed by the appearance of blisters, mostly affecting the mouth and feet.
It is rare for the disease to be fatal, but it can cause death in very young animals – which may not show any symptoms – or in older animals if the form of the disease is severe enough.
Affected animals lose their condition and can suffer from secondary bacterial infections.
In dairy cattle, milk yields will be lost and the cattle’s value will be permanently reduced.
Other potential effects include sterility, lameness and chronic heart disease.
How is it spread?
The disease can be spread through the air, and over long distances if the climate is right.
Animals pick up the virus either by direct contact with an infected animal or contact with something which has been contaminated by an animal. It can also be spread from an infected carcass.
There have been cases of the disease linked to imports of infected meat and meat products.
Movements of animals, people and vehicles can assist the spread of the disease.
Trucks, lorries, market places, and loading ramps need to be disinfected, and the wheels of passing vehicles can pick up the virus from contaminated roads.
Does it affect humans?
Foot-and-mouth disease crosses the species barrier to humans with very great difficulty.
Health experts say cases of people contracting the disease are very rare.
The cases in humans so far have been mild, short-lived, and no medical treatment has been needed.
The symptoms in humans have been similar to flu, accompanied with some blisters.
How is the disease contained?
Animals are slaughtered because if the disease were allowed to spread across the country, it would cause major problems for the far-
ming economy and animal welfare.
Once a case of foot-and-mouth is confirmed, movement restrictions are put in place to help contain the disease.
Officials set up a 3-km protection zone and a surveillance zone with a minimum radius of 10 km.
In the protection zone, the movement of animals, animal products, feed and bedding are prohibited.
A ban on movement across a wider area may also be introduced, and public rights of way could be closed to prevent the disease spreading.
In both the protection and surveillance zones, there will be increased levels of bio-security on farms, with disinfectant used on footwear, clothing and vehicles.
In some cases, infected and other susceptible animals are valued and slaughtered.
Products from animals in the prohibited zones will also be subject to treatment to ensure destruction of the foot-and-mouth disease virus.
How does it affect farmers in terms of trade?
Export health certificates for animals and animal products can be withdrawn.
International restrictions are likely to be imposed on exports to other countries.
If a national movement ban is in place, farmers will also not be able to take animals to slaughter or market.
(Additional information sourced from the International Animal Health Division)