A little-known disease, till about a month back, has now taken gigantic proportions in India. The lumpy skin disease (LSD) that affects cows especially has spread across 15 states in India from July to September 2022. According to the data from The Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, over 20 lakh animals, and 97,435 cattle have died as of 23 September 2022.
Studies suggest that apart from increased movement of livestock or vectors across borders, climate change and increased illegal trade could be causing the spread of LSD as well.
What is Lumpy Skin Disease?
Lumpy skin disease is a viral disease caused by capripox virus that affects cattle. It is transmitted by blood-feeding insects, such as certain species of flies and mosquitoes, or ticks, and through saliva and contaminated water and food. It causes fever, nodules on the skin of about two to five centimetres, high fever, reduced milk production, loss of appetite, and watery eyes, and can also lead to death, especially in animals that have not previously been exposed to the virus.
History and current scenario
The disease was confined to Africa and a few West Asian countries when it was discovered way back in 1929. Around 2015, it started spreading beyond the endemic areas, to European regions. Since its arrival in Bangladesh in July 2019, LSD has been spreading across Asia in epidemic proportions.
It was first confirmed in India, back in November 2019. It was detected in the region of Orissa and Assam between 2019 and 2020. Even Kerala reported 30 to 40 cases between December 2019 and January 2021, but all these cases, even though severe, were sporadic.
Analysis of the present viral sequences suggests that it has evolved since the time it was first detected in India back in 2019. The first cases of the 2022 outbreak were reported in the Kutch region of Gujarat in April. Besides Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Bihar, too have now reported cases. Rajasthan has reported the majority of cases, about 14 lakh out of 20 lakh cases, hence making it the worst affected state in India.
Should you be worried?
The spread of the virus has caused concerns regarding the consumption of milk. To this, Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) has maintained that LSD is a non-zoonotic infection, which makes it non transmissible from animals to humans. It does not affect people in any manner.
The only way it can possibly affect us is a fall in the milk production rate, which is reduced by 40 to 50 percent if the cows are not vaccinated and are infected for the first time. This might cause an economic crisis, as India is one of the largest producers of milk in the world, at about 210 million tonnes annually.
Action towards the crisis
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) has suggested a set of control measures, which involves vaccination of susceptible populations with more than 80 percent coverage, movement control of bovine animals and quarantining, sanitising sheds and spraying insecticides. It has also suggested creating large protection and surveillance zones and vaccination zones.
The Delhi government has started vaccinating healthy cattle to prevent the spread of lumpy skin disease.
As of the first week of September, 97 lakh doses of Goat Pox vaccines have been administered, after the approval of The Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, which stated these vaccines as highly effective.
In a major breakthrough, two institutes of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) have developed an indigenous vaccine for LSD, which the Centre plans to commercialise and roll out in the next three to four months. The vaccine is based on LSD virus samples from cattle in Ranchi afflicted outbreak of 2019. According to reports, the experimental trials conducted on animals afflicted in the ongoing outbreak with the vaccine have revealed encouraging results.