What's the fuss about Foot and Mouth Disease in livestock?

  With the controversy going on about the two buffalos that were found roaming the villages of Okondjatu and  the subsequent restriction of livestock movement in some parts of the country south of the cordon fence, the question is “Why the fuss about Food and Mouth Disease (FMD)”.   The Okakarara Trade fair was apparently not the same this year without the livestock (still can’t imagine how the Herero farmers were coping without ‘ozongombe’ there). And all the affected villages’ annual agricultural shows and auctions were suspended due to the livestock movement restriction.  Ai tog, the people south of the red line are facing the reality about this disease their counterparts in the northern regions had to struggle with for so many years.  FMD is the most highly contagious (spread fast) disease caused by a virus that affects cloven hoofed livestock (cattle, sheep/goats, pigs) and some game animals.  The African Wild buffalos are natural carriers of the FMD virus and can transmit the virus to livestock and game (that’s why the fuss about the buffalos seen in the FMD free zone).  Animals get infected through contact with body fluids such as saliva, milk, urine, snot and dung from infected animals.  Contaminated objects such as farm equipment, clothing, vehicles and boots (those of you who travelled through Botswana by road surely find washing all your shoes in the footbath a nuisance, but it is a necessary precaution to prevent FMD spreading) can be source of infection for animals,.  Animals become sick 2-14 days after infection.  The disease gets its typical name from blisters/sores inside the mouth and feet. The mouth blisters occur especially on the tongue and a lot of saliva drools from the mouth and the animal struggle to eat and eventually lose weight.  The feet blisters are usually seen just above and between claws and are very painful and cause the animal to be lame.  Some animals also have blisters on the teats and udder.  Animals have a high fever and have rough dull coats. Milk production becomes very low and pregnant animals may abort. Wounds usually heal in about 2-3 weeks but sometimes may get infected and take longer to heal leaving star shaped scars. Most adult animals recover from severe disease but are often too thin for long time. Young animals sometimes die without showing typical signs of the disease. FMD is notifiable and if you suspect that your animals show signs of this disease, report immediately to your nearest veterinary office.  For the control of FMD in Namibia, the country is divided in different zones: infected, buffer and surveillance zones. Compulsory vaccinations in the buffer (northern communal areas) and infected zones (Caprivi region) are carried out by the State.  Animals from the surveillance zone are not vaccinated and are quarantined before movement into the free zone.  At the cordon gates, strict restriction of livestock and products movement and footbaths operations are maintained.  Other control measures in the country include strict control of livestock movement and import. As a way of precaution, obtain movement permit from state veterinary office before moving livestock as FMD easily spreads through movement of infected animals.  Although the disease is not transmissible to people, the devastating effects of the FMD are experienced with banning in export of animals and animal products from the affected as well as neighboring areas. All local animal gatherings activities such as auctions and shows also get restricted.  This results in serious financial losses to farmers and the country as a whole. Namibia is a testimony to the long lasting effects of this disease as the central northern area is still battling to get an FMD free status even after many years without signs of the disease.  If the disease is ever confirmed in the free zone, I’m afraid that’s it for Namibia meat industry for an unforeseen time, and hence the livelihood of most of our people.  So folks, let’s be diligent and work with DVS in the fight to keep our FMD free zone free and eventually the whole country. Garamushe! Dr. Baby Kaurivi- Katunahange is a state veterinarian.