Karachi hit by foot-and-mouth disease 954 times this year



December 28, 2014 – Faiza Ilyas

KARACHI(Dawn): With tens of thousands of cattle head being transported from across the country to Karachi every month, the city has been witnessing food-and-mouth disease outbreaks much more frequently than the combined figures of the thre e other provinces, it emerged on Saturday.

In the city, 954 outbreaks of the disease were recorded out of the total 1,119 and 2,591 outbreaks that have been reported from across Sindh and the rest of the country, respectively.

This is the third year in a row with outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease being recorded under a surveillance project, Progressive Control of Food and Mouth Disease in Pakistan, funded by the US agriculture department. The project is being implemented by the provincial and regional livestock departments, national veterinary laboratory and animal husbandry commissioner in collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

“Karachi has the highest viral load of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the country. This is not just due to an effective FMD surveillance system in place for three years now but also because of commercial dairy farming being practised on a large scale in unhygienic and cramped conditions in the city,” said Dr Nasrullah Panhwar, who is looking after the project in Karachi where two cattle colonies were monitored.

So far this year, 362 outbreaks of the foot-and-mouth disease were recorded in Punjab, while 294 and 151 outbreaks of the disease were recorded in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, respectively.

According to Dr Panhwar, 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.

Around 30,000 to 40,000 animals were transported monthly from other parts of the country to the Landhi Cattle Colony which had the largest number of commercial dairy farms in Pakistan, he said.

“There are two theories explaining why the city has too many animals with FMD. One says animals are mostly not vaccinated against the disease before being transported to the city and many of them carried the virus. The disease shows up once they arrive in Karachi after a long travel and low immunity level and later infect other animals.

“Other experts are, however, of the opinion that the virus is already present in dairy farms and infect animals arriving from other parts of the country,” he explained.

Although the milk and meat of affected animals was not harmful for human consumption, it’s better to avoid them, Dr Panhwar said, adding that the virus transmission to humans was very rare.

In his opinion, vaccination before transporting animals is the only solution to deal with the situation. “Animals should carry vaccination certificates that should be checked at Karachi’s entry points where a quarantine station is required to isolate infected animals before they enter the city,” he said.

According to the data, collected under the project, 686 and 2,366 outbreaks of FMD were reported in Sindh in 2012 and 2013, respectively. In Karachi, 665 and 2,185 outbreaks of the disease were reported in 2012 and last year, respectively.

Asked why Karachi had witnessed a surge in FMD outbreaks last year, Dr Panhwar said the vaccine being used last year against FMD didn’t provide protection against the specific FMD virus sub-serotype commonly found 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. This year, we asked for more potent vaccine that provided cover against it,” he said, adding that the country had limited production of vaccine so largely farmers used imported vaccines which were more effective.

According to the surveillance data, Azad Jammu and Kashmir witnessed 476 outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, Islamabad 41, federally administered tribal areas 25 and Gilgit-Baltistan recorded five outbreaks of the FMD.

Financial losses

“Currently FMD restricts Pakistani exports of animal and dairy products to most countries. A better control of FMD can help Pakistani farmers improve their own production and increase exports of animal and dairy products,” said Dr Mohammad Afzal, a senior livestock expert coordinating the national project on the disease.

According to experts, FMD is a disease of all cloven hoofed animals. It is caused by one of the most highly transmissible virus known to humankind. It can survive up to six months in environment. Animals not vaccinated against the disease have almost 100 per cent chance of getting infected if exposed to the virus. When the FMD virus infects a group of susceptible animals, it can quickly spread to the whole herd. The resulting disease is characterized by fever, general malaise and blisters in the mouth and around the hooves of animals. These blisters and resulting ulcers can also occur on the udder or cows, making it painful for milking.

“Affected animals are unable to walk or eat properly. Fatalities contributed to FMD only occur less than two per cent, but affected animals lose weight and their milk production greatly decreases, some animals even stop producing milk altogether, causing significant financial hardship to cattle owners,” Dr Afzal said.

Under the project, which will end next year, diagnostic facilities have been strengthened and the disease surveillance system has been developed in the country.

Animal, Poultry, Livestock, Farm Animal, Buffaloes, Buffalo Farming, Cows, Sheep, Goat, Vaccination, Disease

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