A scientist at the Research Institute Laboratory explaining the process involved in developing a local Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine. Photo Credit: Lominda Afedraru

Search for local Foot-and-Mouth Disease vaccine picks up steam

By Lominda Afedraru

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_letter=”F” dropcap_content=”OOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE (FMD) is one of the devastating animal diseases threatening the livestock industry in Uganda.”]

FMD is characterised by fever and blisterlike sores on the tongue and lips, in the mouth, on the teats and between the hooves. The disease causes severe production losses and while the majority of affected animals recover, the disease often leaves them weakened and incapacitated.

Across Uganda, farmers concerned about frequent FMD outbreaks, have been crying out for a vaccine to reduce the disease burden. A recent article published in the Frontiers by a team of scientists from Uganda and USA stated that the existence of multiple FMD virus (FMDV) strains and the lack of cross protection between serotypes are some of the factors limiting the control and eradication of the disease.

Uncontrolled animal movements, the existence of wildlife reservoirs, and poor vaccine performance have created conditions for FMDV to maintain endemicity since it was first reported in 1953. The implementation of quarantines and vaccination programmes using imported vaccines have failed to control FMD in the country. Reports indicate that FMD clinical cases increased in Uganda during the 2000’s compared to the 1990s.

Well, their cries might be answered sooner or later if ongoing search for locally made vaccine is successful. Scientists at the National Livestock Resources Research Institute (NaLRRI) in Nakyesasa have joined others conducting vaccine research. There are other FMD research efforts going on by Ugandan scientists, including those at Uganda Virus Research Institute and Makerere University, seeking to understand the distribution of the virus across the country.

Dr Moses Ddikusooka, the head of Vaccine research at NaLRRI, said that that his team started the research work in 2018 after livestock farmers across the country reported rampant livestock deaths as a result of FMD outbreaks.

FMD virus infects a variety of clovenhoofed animals, including cattle, sheep, goats and all wild ruminants with high morbidity in adult animals. High mortality can occur in young animals due to myocarditis disease which weakens the heart. According to Dr Ddikusooka, most FMDV vaccines are imported from South Africa and Botswana which in most cases fail to work out for the farmers because the strains in those countries are different. His team went out in the field and picked virus samples from infected animals on different farms.

The viruses are left to grow in the laboratory for a period of four months as they are fed on sero culture. Later the various strains are transformed into a vaccine but the virus status is maintained as it was in the field. The process is repeated over and over to ensure what is developed is effective.

The researchers are in the process of obtaining permission from the regulatory Authorities to test what they have so far come up with. It will be rolled out to farmers after testing to ascertain its efficacy. The records by Ministry of Agriculture indicate that a total of 22,690 FMD cases were reported in Uganda between 2010 and 2021 with an average and median of 179 and 34 outbreaks per year respectively. In this period, FMD was reported at least once in 58 districts out of the 136 in the country.

Current preventive measures In the absence of a reliable vaccine, farmers are advised to use strict biosecurity measures for animals, animal products, vehicles, people and equipment. They should also restrict or stop all animal movement to prevent entry or spread of the disease and observe, detect and report any disease or unusual signs to the herd veterinarian as quickly as possible.

The entrance to the farm is a major control point so it is recommended that a farmer have only one gated entrance to the animal areas to be able to better control and monitor all visitors and vehicles arriving at your farm. The gate should be kept locked when not in use and stop all movement of animals on and off farm. Traffic on or off the farm should be closely monitored and recorded and a log sheet maintained to record all visitors and vehicles that enter THE farm.

All visitors should be accompanied by someone from the farm at all times. Record keeping will help with disease surveillance and tracking should it become necessary. Employees need to be limited to only those necessary for the continued operation of the farm. Contact with animals should be restricted to only tasks necessary for the continued operation of the farm and health and well-being of the animals. As part of strict biosecurity measures, employees should be provided clean boots, hats and overalls to wear on the farm. These items should remain on the farm when the person leaves and be washed and disinfected before they are used again.

All footwear should be disinfected before entering and after leaving any animal housing area. Hands must be washed with soap and warm water before entering and after leaving an animal housing area. The housing unit needs to be disinfected regularly and contact restricted between one’s animals with the neighbour’s.

Where they have contact with neighbouring animals, move them out of pastures or lots. Consider double fencing the perimeters to minimise nose-to-nose contact with the neighbouring animals and provide fresh drinking water in tanks. Also, prevent contact with free roaming wildlife animals and cats plus dogs. It is important to keep pets in a kennel or tied securely to avoid contact with livestock and feed areas.

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