Lumpy skin disease outbreak in Mutoko

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BOVINE skin diseases such as lumpy skin disease can greatly affect cattle as well as cattle ranches’ income and national economies through reduced production and performance.

They also cause irreparable damage to the hide.

The hide of a cattle (dehwe), forms the important outer covering surface of the animal.  

While it is mainly protective and sensory in function, it is also valued for the manufacture of an array of items, including indigenous cultural material such as drums, shields, mats, other musical instruments, nhavas, etc.

Currently communal cattle owners in Mutoko, under Chief Kagande’s jurisdiction in the Charewa area of Mutoko, have unfortunately alerted me to yet another disease outbreak, this time diagnosed as lumpy skin disease.  

Mutoko lies north-east of Zimbabwe and encompasses the areas of Mudzonga, Makosa, Katsande, Sugwe, Nyamakope, Makaha and the Mutemwa areas, where the disease is currently prevalent.

Given that up to three of cattle infected by lumpy skin disease can die from the contagion, it is important for farmers to understand, identify and isolate this disease in time.  

For this reason, I found it necessary to revisit diseases of cattle and write this article for the expedient understanding of lumpy skin disease of cattle in Zimbabwe.

While there is a small veterinary office at Mutoko Centre, most villages do not access the town, especially now due to reduced transport facilities during these COVID-19 restricted times.

The problem has been  compounded by the excessively high cost of vaccine. 

 As a result many cattle farmers continue to suffer heavy losses of their precious cattle. Lumpy skin disease is a World Organisation for Animal Health-listed disease, and in South Africa in accordance with the Animal Disease Act 35 of 1984, it is a notifiable disease. 

What is lumpy skin disease?

Lumpy skin disease is a seasonal viral disease of cattle, spread by the poxvirus and usually occurs during the wet summer and autumn months, especially when there are high insect populations.  

In addition, certain ticks can carry the disease, which means it can even occur in winter.

Due to poor grazing in the winter savanna, free range indigenous cattle that are usually undernourished during this period before the rains, are particularly susceptible to this disease; especially after the poor rains experienced in Zimbabwe during the 2019-2020 rain season.  

The disease can also affect some game species

The disease is characterised by fever and the presence of multiple firm, circumscribed skin nodules and necrotic plaques in the mucous membranes, chiefly of the respiratory tract and oral cavity.  

Though most infected animals show no visible clinical signs, infected animals will not eat and small sores will develop on the inside of an animal’s mouth, nose and sexual organs. 

If the disease is present in a herd, a large number of animals will suddenly abort. 

The disease is spread through the saliva of infected animals and by infected animals rubbing against healthy animals, transferring it through skin lesions.

While the disease was contained in the past, in early 2000s, the disease began to have a devastating impact on livestock in Zimbabwe.  

Over the years, the disease continued to spread to new areas, with a countrywide distribution, even where the disease had previously been contained.

It caused unusually high mortalities in areas, where the disease occurred for the first time – up to 10 percent, especially in Mashonaland East, Masvingo and Matabeleland South, even though rarely more than three percent of infected animals reportedly die during an outbreak.

During the 2012-2013 rain season Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central were the worst affected.  The disease spread to new areas which previously did not experience serious problems during the 2013-2014 rain season

Lumpy skin disease can be prevented and controlled effectively through annual vaccination, but animals vaccinated during the disease’s incubation period still become infected. 

Infected animals cannot be sold commercially. Cattle and other animals showing serious symptoms of lumpy skin disease must be culled and buried.

Knowledge of animal health for developing farmers is generally lacking in Zimbabwe.   

Surveys show that lumpy skin disease is widespread among unvaccinated animals, thus, managing endemic diseases is largely a farm-level activity and involves preventive and control measures aimed at reducing the negative effects of the disease and if possible, its elimination from the herds

During this period – September to November, as temperatures increase so does the build-up of insect vectors – such as  flies, ticks and mosquitoes.

It is therefore vital for cattle farmers to carry out the main vaccination programme, before the onset of the rain season, that includes Botulism. 

As the Government of Zimbabwe prioritises the revival of the country’s agro-economy and re-stocks the national livestock herd, it is important for Zimbabwean cattle farmers to understand the effects of lumpy skin disease and take the necessary measures to prevent the further depletion of the national herd. 

Dr. Tony M. Monda is Zimbabwean Socio-Economic analyst and scholar.  He is currently conducting Veterinary Epidemiology, Agronomy and Food Security and Agro-economic research in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.  He is a writer, lecturer and a specialist Post-Colonial Scholar, He holds a PhD and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) in Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. E-mail tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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