Lumpy skin disease (LSD) has infected around 11.25 lakh cattle, caused nearly 50,000 deaths and spread to 165 districts in 12 states. Despite this officially confirmed data, there seems to be no coordinated national effort for dealing with what’s clearly more than a normal viral outbreak. The LSD virus, transmitted by mosquitoes and other blood-feeding arthropod vectors, was first detected in Odisha in August 2019 and the neighbouring eastern states by the year-end. Over the next two years, sporadic cases were seen, including in Maharashtra and Gujarat. The recent wave, since May-June 2022, is unusual not only for morbidity or the rate at which animals are contracting the disease, but also mortality. The symptoms, too, aren’t restricted to the mere appearance of skin nodules. In many cases, infected animals are experiencing acute pain, swelling in limbs and bleeding, alongside fever and loss of appetite.
For now, it looks that susceptibility to the disease is more among the cattle with hampered immune systems. That would include stray animals or even those in gaushalas not properly fed and looked after. To that extent, there may be no immediate impact on milk production (LSD hasn’t also been reported much in buffaloes). It is, moreover, possible that the current surge may have largely to do with an increase in vector population from the monsoon — and could subside for the same reason. But that only adds to the urgency to act now and launch a concerted vaccine-cum-awareness drive on the lines of the fight against Covid-19. The dairy sector, which accounts for over a fifth of the gross value added from Indian agriculture, needs to be prepared for a fresh resurgence that might come sooner than later — with deadlier consequences.
Three things should be done on a priority basis. The first is to step up supply of goat pox and sheep pox vaccines. Since LSD belongs to the same capripoxvirus genus, these vaccines can provide at least partial cross-protection against the former even if that is specific to cattle. At present, only the goat pox vaccine has been approved for administering to cattle against LSD. The same may be extended to sheep pox vaccines, for which there are many more manufacturers. Secondly, the government must expedite the commercialisation of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s recently-developed live attenuated homologous vaccine that is said to provide full protection against LSD. It could consider granting emergency use authorisation to enable large-scale production and roll-out, similar to that for Covid vaccines. Third, the vaccination should be done on mission mode, with the push coming from the top and not the department of animal husbandry and dairying.