The Sunday News
IN recent weeks the media has been awash with news of an outbreak of anthrax in cattle. The disease has been largely reported in the Midlands areas and areas bordering the province as well as some areas in Mashonaland provinces.
Initially the reported areas were in places that are known to be endemic to the disease. However, reports seem to be pointing to a spread of this deadly livestock disease as new areas are being reported every time.
I could not independently verify with the Department of Veterinary Services the extent of the spread of reported cases but indications are that the disease is spreading and this is worrisome. Anthrax is a disease of economic importance to the livestock farmer and it causes huge losses.
The disease has high morbidity which means the rate of animals contracting the disease from one another is very high and hence it quickly spreads through an area. The mortality rate is also high in anthrax cases because of sudden death.
It is very rare for a farmer to notice that his/her animal is sick.
Half the time animals are just found dead with no prior indications of them being sick. While the aim of this article is not to discuss signs of the disease it is important to point out a few very indicative signs of anthrax.
Firstly it’s the sudden death of animals, blood oozing from all orifices and lack of rigor mortis on the dead cadaver.
These are the primary signs that invariably point to an anthrax case.
The disease is also zoonotic which means it can be transmitted from animals to humans and hence people that get in contact with or eat infected meat will most certainly contract the disease and fall sick.
The call is therefore for the Government to take serious decisive action to control the disease.
The spread of the disease needs to be halted and contained to avoid losses to farmers who are already burdened by the drought challenges.
It will not be a wise decision to let the disease spread to previously clean areas because these areas will now become infected.
The spores of bacteria that cause anthrax can stay in the soil for several years and come to life anytime the conditions permit. This means once the area has anthrax it will take several years of veterinary effort to clean it. Government surely needs to press panic buttons and have preventative action and measures put in place. The situation cannot be allowed to deteriorate further unabated as this will wipe out several years of Government and farmers’ investment in trying to eradicate this deadly bacterial disease.
Farmers also need to play their part in preventing the spread of the disease. Illegal movement of livestock is the major contributor in the spread of the disease and farmers are the culprits. The Department of Veterinary Services, as a matter of procedure, will quarantine an area from which an outbreak has been reported and this means no animal movement will be allowed for a prescribed period. It means no animal will be sold or bought from that area since no movement will be allowed.
This becomes a major blow for livestock farmers whose source of livelihood is their livestock. There are also middlemen who trade in livestock and they are usually the ones that tend to flout regulations and disregard movement bans. These traders will illegally move animals from quarantined areas across to clean areas then swop them for clean animals which they then clear and take to the market.
This usually involves heifers where traders bring them from quarantined areas and swop them for oxen from the clean area.
They then clear the oxen and take them to the market. Nkayi District has had Foot and Mouth disease transmitted from Gokwe through this kind of process. Farmers, therefore need to avoid being complicit in illegal animal movement processes that will bring diseases into their area.
Farmers need to be vigilant and report any illegal movement of cattle to the police or the Department of Veterinary Services. Government cannot be effective in policing these movements without the active participation of farmers. We cannot participate in criminal activities of facilitating illegal activities only to cry foul when the disease ravages our area.
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