By Jyotsna Bhatnagar
The outbreak of lumpy skin disease (LSD), a devastating viral infection, among cattle and water buffaloes in Gujarat and several other states has set the alarm bells ringing over its likely impact on milk production. Containment measures including large scale vaccination of cattle are being launched on a war footing with over a million animals vaccinated for immunity in Gujarat alone.
The disease has assumed epidemic proportions in the Saurashtra and Kutch regions of Gujarat in less than a month, infecting over 50,000 cattle heads and has spread across 20 of the 33 districts of the state.
Rajiv Gandhi, MD and CEO of the Ahmedabad-based Hester Biosciences Limited, an animal healthcare and poultry company which manufactures essential vaccines to counter several life-threatening diseases in dairy animals, reveals that several state governments and private players in the dairy segment are stocking up on the Goat Pox vaccine, which has been prescribed by government advisories for use in higher dosages to protect, prevent and reduce mortality due to LSD in cattle and buffaloes.
Hester, a leader in production of Goat Pox vaccine with an almost 95 % market share, is pulling all stops to combat the spread of LSD by ramping up its production.
“We are producing 1,50,000 vials this month which translates to 5 million doses, the highest we have ever manufactured on this vaccine in our 35 years of existence,” Gandhi says.
The Hester MD, who has recently been nominated as a member of the National Advisory Committee for Animal Husbandry and Dairy sector, goes on to add, “We are committed to producing the vaccine at the cost of reducing the manufacture of other vaccines in our basket to meet the challenges of the fast-evolving crisis.”
And while the company has not earmarked additional investment for the Goat Pox vaccine, it is “diverting investment from other, more profitable products for the time being till the situation stabilises.”
Dairy majors in Gujarat including the country’s largest dairy player, GCMMF (Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation), better known as Amul, the Banas Dairy and the Gujarat government were among the bulk buyers of the vaccine in the past few days.
Inquiries are also pouring in from other affected states including Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan, UP, and even the north eastern states like Assam and Meghalaya. Across the border, countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh too are battling the disease.
“LSD is one of the most devastating diseases affecting cattle and buffaloes in the recent past. While India has been witnessing sporadic cases of this life-threatening viral infection caused by Capripox virus, which is closely related to the Goat Pox virus, this is the first time that it has reached alarming proportions,” Gandhi states.
He maintains that Hester has adequate ready stocks of its Goat Pox vaccine as well as of its other complementing products. Additionally, Hester is also creating awareness amongst farmers and livestock owners by way of regular workshops and informational sessions recommending preventive and protective measures such as vaccination, infection control, insect control programmes and biosecurity measures.
The disease is vector borne, spread through flies, mosquitoes and even ticks and has a high fatality rate. Animals affected by LSD show signs of high fever, superficial lymph nodes, skin ulcers or scars, emaciation and reduced milk production. Official figures collated by the Gujarat government claim that over 50,000 cows have been infected and 1,500 have died though the actual numbers may be significantly higher.
The Gujarat government is maintaining a round-the-clock vigil which includes scientific disposal of carcasses, ban of movement of cattle from other states, cities and districts and banning of cattle fairs.
Says RS Sodhi, MD, GCMMF, “The disease can have huge adverse economic implications on farmers and on livestock owners, who are heavily dependent on these animals for their livelihood, if left unchecked. That’s because milk production yield of cattle is severely reduced in the duration of the disease.”
When asked about the overall impact the disease has thus far had on milk production in the state, Sodhi says there’s no cause for alarm just yet. “Milk procurement has dipped by just 50,000 litres per day as of now which is a mere 0.25 % dip in our daily procurement of over 20 million litres. The disease mostly spreads in the monsoon season and we are hopeful that things will be under control soon.”