Toll from foot-and-mouth disease reaches 1,485, mostly in south Karnataka

The steep death toll among cattle from foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) could have been exacerbated by an unusually heavy rainfall this monsoon, even as an inefficient vaccination programme left thousands of animals vulnerable to the disease.

While FMD (a viral infection affecting animals with ‘cloven hooves’ such as cattle, deer and wild boar) is not fatal by itself, a secondary infection called ‘haemorrhagic septicemia,’ known to propagate quickly during heavy rain or extreme climatic conditions, was responsible for majority of the deaths among cattle and zoo animals infected by FMD this monsoon, say scientists at the Institute of Animal Health and Veterinary Biologicals (IAH&VB).

Official figures with the Animal Husbandry Department place FMD-related deaths among cattle at 1,485 so far in the State. Another 12,691 heads of cattle have contracted FMD, the records say, with south Karnataka districts — Kolar, Mandya, Ramanagaram, Chamarajanagar and Chickballapur in particular — being worst affected. IAH&VB, which conducted disease investigations on several heads of cattle this season, found that almost all FMD-related deaths were due to haemorrhagic septicemia.

“FMD infects cattle every year, but the death toll this year — largely from haemorrhagic septicemia — has been unusually high,” said P. Giridhar, Joint Director of IAH&VB. “We could attribute this to the severe monsoon, which, in fact, came after two years of drought.”

Haemorrhagic septicemia, a painful and often fatal bacterial disease of the respiratory system, infects animals weakened by disease or environmental stressors such as heavy rain or drought, he explained. Animals weakened by FMD are, likewise, susceptible to haemorrhagic septicemia. “This makes a thorough vaccination drive that much more important,” Dr. Giridhar said.

South Karnataka happens to have seen the biggest downpour this monsoon. The 16 districts of this meteorological subdivision recorded “excess” rain, according to the India Meteorological Department. This year, rainfall in this region exceeded a 50-year average by 26 per cent. In the State, overall, monsoon exceeded the average by 17 per cent, after a deficit monsoon last year.

‘Vaccination inefficient’

Sources told The Hindu, that the vaccination programme in the State continues to be “partial” and inefficient, with just about 60 per cent of cattle within the earmarked immunisation belt vaccinated.

‘81 p.c. area covered’

This was, however, refuted by the Animal Husbandry Department.

“The department has covered 81 per cent of the area in this round,” said Shivaram Bhat, Joint Director (Development) at the department. He added that cattle owners were often reluctant to have lactating or pregnant cows vaccinated for fear that it would impact the animals’ health or yield.

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