NEW DELHI (AP) — A viral disease has killed nearly 100,000 cows and buffalo in India and sickened more than 2 million others.
The outbreak has caused devastating income losses for ranchers as the disease not only causes deaths but can also lead to reduced milk production, emaciated animals and birth problems.
Known as nodular skin disease, the disease is transmitted by blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes and ticks. Infected cows and buffalo get fevers and develop lumps on their skin.
Farmers suffered heavy losses last year due to extreme weather events: a record heatwave in India reduced the wheat harvest in April, insufficient rainfall in eastern states such as Jharkhand state shrank dried winter crops such as legumes, and unusually heavy rains in September. damaged rice in the north.
And now the virus has spread to at least 15 states, with cow and buffalo deaths nearly doubling in three weeks, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The disease, which is being spread among cattle, is having a disproportionate impact on small farmers, many of whom have isolated themselves from the shocks of climate change by raising dairy cattle, said Devinder Sharma, an agricultural policy expert in the northern city of Chandigarh.
“It’s a serious, serious problem and this (disease) … has been on the rise for the last few years,” he said, adding that government figures likely underestimate the true number of deaths from the disease.
The first cases in South Asia were detected in 2019 and have since spread to India, China and Nepal. It was first recorded in Zambia in 1929 and has spread throughout Africa and recently parts of Europe.
Dairy products are one of India’s largest agricultural commodities, employing 80 million people and contributing 5% to the economy according to federal figures. It is the world’s largest producer of milk, contributing more than a fifth of global production – but exports account for only a fraction of that.
To protect the industry, authorities are vaccinating healthy cows with an injection designed for a similar disease while working to develop a more effective vaccine.
Today, the vast interior of India is riddled with mass graves of cows. In some places, carcasses rot under the open sky, and the agonizing cries of sick animals echo through the villages. The worst impact was recorded in western Rajasthan state, with 60,000 cattle dead and nearly 1.4 million sick.
“The disease is contagious. Now it’s shifting from west to east,” warned Narendra Mohan Singh, director of Rajasthan’s state livestock department.
In the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, trade and movement of cattle with neighboring states has been restricted. But farmers like Amarnath Sharma in Milkipur village say they have been left in the dark. Three of his five cows are sick and although he has heard about the virus he does not know how to help his cattle.
“If these animals are not treated, they will die,” he said.
Farmers in affected states such as Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas have also asked the government for financial support.
Meanwhile, a study of the genetic makeup of the nodular skin disease virus found it differed greatly from previous versions, said Vinod Scaria, a scientist at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi.
Viruses are constantly evolving, and not all of these changes are harmful to health. However, Scaria, one of the study’s authors, said it shows the need for continuous surveillance and monitoring of the disease as it is not clear how the virus has evolved over the past two years.
“If you had 24/7 surveillance, you would be prepared,” he said.
AP reporters Chonchui Ngashangva in New Delhi and Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow, India, contributed.
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