Virus kills 100,000 cows in India, threatening livelihoods


NEW DELHI — A viral disease has killed nearly 100,000 cows and buffaloes in India and sickened more than two million more.

The outbreak has resulted in devastating income losses for livestock farmers, as the disease can lead not only to death, but to reduced milk production, weakened animals and calving problems.

Called lumpy skin disease, the disease is spread by blood-sucking insects like mosquitoes and ticks. Infected cows and buffaloes have fevers and skin lumps.

Over the past year, farmers have experienced severe losses due to extreme weather. Record-breaking heat in India reduced his wheat crop in April, while eastern states such as Jharkhand did not receive enough rainfall, causing dry winter crops such as beans to wilt, leading to a drought in September. had an unusually heavy rainfall. Rice suffered in the north.

And now the virus has spread to at least 15 states, nearly doubling the number of cattle and buffalo deaths in three weeks, reports the Press Trust of India.

“This is a very serious problem and this (disease) … has been growing in recent years,” said Devinder Sharma, an agricultural policy expert in northern Chandigarh city, adding that government figures likely underestimated the true number of deaths, he added. Toll from illness.

The first cases were detected in South Asia in 2019 and have since spread to India, China and Nepal. First recorded in Zambia in 1929, it has spread to Africa and more recently to parts of Europe.

According to federal government data, dairy is one of India’s largest agricultural products, employing 80 million people and contributing 5% of the Indian economy. It is the world’s largest milk producer, accounting for more than one-fifth of the world’s production, but exports only a fraction of it.

lumpy skin disease of cattle
A man walks by the carcass of a dead cow infected with lumpy skin disease at a cattle shelter in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on September 21, 2022. (Vishal Bhatnagar/AP Photo)

To protect the industry, officials vaccinate healthy cows with shots designed for similar diseases while efforts are underway to develop more effective vaccines. .

India’s vast hinterland is now demarcated by cattle mass graves. In some places carcasses rot in the open, and the painful cries of sick animals echo through villages. The worst impact was seen in West Rajasthan. 60,000 cattle died and nearly 1.4 million became sick.

“The disease is contagious. It is now migrating from west to east,” warned Narendra Mohan Singh, Director of Rajasthan Livestock Department.

India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, and neighboring states have restricted the trade and movement of cattle with neighboring states. But a farmer like Amanath Sharma from Mirkipur village says they are left in the dark, with three of his five cows sick, and about the viral disease. I’ve heard of it, but I don’t know how to help my livestock.

“If these animals don’t get treatment, they will die,” he said.

Farmers in affected states, such as Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas, are also asking governments for financial assistance.

Meanwhile, Binod Scalia, a scientist at the Institute for Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi, said a study of the genetic makeup of the massive skin disease virus found it to be very different from previous versions.

Viruses are constantly evolving and not all of these changes are detrimental to your health. But Scalia, one of the study’s authors, said it wasn’t clear how the virus had evolved over the past two years, highlighting the need for continued surveillance and tracking of the disease. said.

“With constant monitoring, we would be ready,” he said.

By Aniruddha Ghosal

Associated Press