Five things you should know about lumpy skin disease in cattle
Last week I received a call from a distressed farmer over a suspected outbreak of lumpy skin disease in his village.
He mentioned that he had religiously vaccinated his cows against the disease but wanted some assurance that his stock was safe. He also wanted to know whether there are other preventive measures against the disease. He has a valid concern, so we look at lumpy skin disease; the symptoms, how it is transmitted and what to do once you notice such signs.
What is lumpy skin disease?
This is a viral debilitating disease characterised by skin nodules. It totally destroys the skin and causes wasting. It is better prevented than treated.
How is it transmitted?
It is not fully understood how the virus is transmitted between animals. But it is suspected that the disease is transmitted by flies and mosquitoes. The disease can also be spread through repeated use of needles between healthy and infected animals.
What are the symptoms?
The most characteristic clinical sign of lumpy skin disease are skin nodular swellings. The swellings can cover the whole body of the animal or sometimes can be restricted to the neck, around the vulva or penile sheath, scrotum, udder or limbs. The swellings are hard which may later turn into open wounds. These swellings can also develop in the mouth and upper respiratory tract. The location of the swellings can cause difficulty in walking, eating or mating for bulls. Coughing will be observed if the swellings affect the respiratory tract, while excess salivation will be seen if the wound develops within the mouth cavity and the animal will not have appetite. Nasal discharge and excess tears may also be observed.
Female animals will not get on heat and if pregnant, abortion may occur. Bulls will register reduced libido. The disease also predisposes a milking animal to mastitis. Animals will lose weight and become emaciated. The disease therefore destroys both the skin and the muscles.
Can lumpy skin disease be treated?
There is no effective treatment of positive cases and prevention is the only best option for this disease. Symptomatic treatment of positive cases can be done and this normally includes wound management and antibiotic cover for any secondary opportunistic diseases.
How can lumpy skin disease be prevented?
Vaccination is a cost effective way of preventing the disease. Lumpy skin vaccine is manufactured locally by the Kenya Veterinary Vaccines and Products Institute (KEVEVAPI). Calves under six months old born to cows that had been vaccinated or had the disease and recovered, do not need to be vaccinated. However, when they reach six months old, they have to be vaccinated every year.
There may be a swelling at the site of injection and a temporary drop in milk production, but the swelling will disappear after a few weeks with a return to normal milk production.
(Dr Othieno Joseph, the author, was Vet of the Year 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council, firstname.lastname@example.org)