An FMD Outbreak

In the last few months, the foot and mouth disease has killed around 2000 cattle heads in Kashmir alone, Sarmad Dev reports

Cows have traditionally remained the primary target of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) has been a seasonal problem in Kashmir but in the last few months, a massive outbreak of the disease has hit 18000 animals leading to a huge loss for cattle rearers. Insiders in Kashmir’s animal husbandry estimate that more than 2000 animals have perished. What is peculiar to this disease is the calves are the main victims because their FMD-infected mothers are unable to feed them. Locally it is known as Aes Neur.

The outbreak has been aggravated by the limited availability of vaccines, which can treat the disease, the population in areas where the disease exists alleged.

In City Outskirts

The disease is spreading at an alarming rate in Kashmir right now. The worst-hit areas are the outskirts of Hazratbal, Zakura as well peripheral districts including Pulwama, Budgam, and Ganderbal.

“We are facing a huge problem as our cattle are dying by a dozen. Even in Dogaam (another village nearby), there is a lot of concern about this issue,” Mohammad Shaban Dar, a resident of Lilihara, Pulwama said.

Dar said that either the cows get their feet eaten by maggots or some sort of puss starts to pour out from their mouths, causing them to eventually die due to the pain.

“Mostly we see this disease in cows which are reared near sheep as well as in sheep as well,” Dar said. “Losing one’s cattle is just the same as losing a limb.”

Pulwama is believed to be topping the list of infections, followed by Budgam. The authorities released some data by the end of July about the impact of the diseases but things have moved fundamentally on the ground.

Iqbal Ahmad, a resident of Chadoora complained that the veterinary doctors were telling them “little to nothing” about the disease.

“We are required to vaccinate our cattle every February but still our animals are developing FMD,” Ahmad said. “We are ready to pay anything for the treatment of our animals.”

Serious Consequences

If the FMD remains uncontrolled, insiders in the rearing community said Kashmir will soon have milk supply issues. Almost half of the milk is being managed by the local herders and in case the FMD gets into the flocks, it will have a serious crisis.

A sheep herd in a Kashmir meadow

By on average, Jammu and Kashmir consume around 25 lakh metric tons of milk in a calendar year of which almost 22 lakh metric tons are produced within Jammu and Kashmir and the rest is being imported. This means the overall consumption of milk in Jammu and Kashmir is around 2415458937, worth Rs 9600 crore if one presumes milk producer sells it for Rs 40, a litre.

The other serious crisis is that the peasantry that mostly manages these small flocks will face crippling issues in case the FMD mortality witnessed an upsurge. A milch cow that fetches a farmer, five kilograms of milk a day, values more than Rs 50,000, right now. The costs spiral up, even to many lakh rupees, if the cow is from superior breeds

What is FMD?

FMD is a highly contagious virus, which affects animals. It affects cloven-hoofed animals including cattle, buffalo, camels, sheep, goats, deer and pigs. FMD is not readily transmissible to humans and is not a public health risk unless one decides to eat the affected animal.

The disease was first documented in 1870. The virus responsible for FMD is from the enterovirus family, which affect the split-hooved animals. Infection occurs when the virus particle is taken into the cell of the host. The cell is then forced to manufacture thousands of copies of the virus, and eventually bursts, releasing the new particles in the blood. The virus is genetically highly variable, which limits the effectiveness of vaccination.

The symptoms of this disease are fever, blisters in the mouths and feet of the cattle, worms in the feet, frothing of the mouth and quivering lips, lameness and laziness, which leads to lower milk production as the appetite is severely affected by the virus. Ruptured blisters can result in extreme lameness and reluctance to move or eat. Usually, blisters heal within seven days (sometimes longer), but complications, such as secondary bacterial infection of open blisters, can also occur.

Vaccination

Depending on the FMD situation, vaccination strategies can be designed to attain mass coverage or either be targeted to specific animal sub-populations or areas.

Vaccination programmes held at a target population should meet several critical criteria, most important of all, coverage should be at least 80 per cent and the camps should be completed in the shortest period of time.

Vaccination should be scheduled to allow for interference from maternal immunity. Vaccines should be administered by the doctors, in the correct dose and in the correct timeline.

A Concerned Activist

“We have seen this disease mostly in cows and buffalos, but this year we are witnessing this disease in sheep as well, in large numbers,” Dr

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Raja Muzaffar Bhat, who has been working, among other things, with the herders and the sheep-breeders in the central Kashmir, said. “A farmer told me that every start of the year, they (the officials) do a census on the cattle to check for upcoming disease and vaccinations, this census have been happening for 100 years and in February we are supposed to get out cattle vaccinated, it’s August and there was no vaccination.”

Dr Bhat said that the Government of India launched a programme providing 100 per cent subsidies for the vaccination but still the shepherds have to pay Rs 20-30 rupees per head, which is quite costly for them. The vaccines, Bhat said, were supposed to reach Srinagar in February but the return of Covid19 in April interrupted the supply chain.

Chopans (Kashmiri Shepherds) are unique because they do not own the cattle that they take care of, these are mostly owned by zamindars (landlords) who hire them for their cattle for grazing up in meadows. “The FMD has created a crisis. When the animals die of FMD, the owners accuse Chopans of fraud,” Bhat said.

Dr Bhat said the worst-hit areas are Liddermud, Kutbal, Pulwama, Chadoora and now even in Srinagar this virus is spreading. “When the cattle get infected and there are not doctors and medicine around, the owners sell these animals in desperation to the butchers and that is a huge loss,” Dr Bhat said.

Expert Advice

When contacted, Joint Director Institute of Animal Health and Biological Production, Dr Anil Gupta said his team was helping every animal owner in need for the vaccine which costs around Rs 10 – 20.

“We have also set up a village network across Kashmir through which we provide all the necessary medications,” Dr Gupta said. “We advise people whose animals are suffering to immediately contact their nearest vet or animal husbandry official as waiting could prove fatal.”

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