Warning of foot-and-mouth disease threat in the Western Cape

This outbreak raised concerns as it happened near the Western Cape border. File Picture: Independent Media (ANA) Archives

This outbreak raised concerns as it happened near the Western Cape border. File Picture: Independent Media (ANA) Archives

Published May 18, 2024


Cape Town - The Western Cape government has warned of the looming threat of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the province following the outbreak of the disease in the Eastern Cape.

The Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform confirmed cases of FMD in the province last week.

One case was confirmed on a dairy farm located at Humansdorp in Kouga after the National Veterinary Reference Laboratory conducted epidemiological investigations. This was after the animals showed clinical signs of the disease, and on May 1 the positive laboratory results confirmed the diagnosis.

This outbreak raised concerns as it happened near the Western Cape border. The province’s agriculture department said, despite ongoing efforts by national and provincial veterinary services, the threat of FMD looms large following its spread from the restricted zone surrounding Kruger National Park in 2022. It said this was attributed to unlawful animal movements and auctions.

“A recent outbreak in Humansdorp, approximately 100km from the Western Cape border, underscores how rapidly FMD can be transmitted. While most reported outbreaks in the country are contained, those in KwaZulu-Natal and the latest in the Eastern Cape remain unresolved. Western Cape Veterinary Services is urging producers to remain vigilant,” the department said.

FMD is a highly contagious viral disease of cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. The current outbreak is affecting cattle and buffalo. The FMD virus causes painful blisters in the mouth that lead to a loss of appetite and excessive salivation.

The skin around the claws can also become ulcerated, red, and swollen, resulting in lameness. The disease has an incubation period of two weeks from when the animal becomes infected until it shows clinical signs. During this period, animals appear normal and healthy but can silently spread the disease. For this reason, no movement of animals can be considered safe without a 28-day quarantine period.

Although this outbreak poses a threat to the Western Cape, Mary James, head of communication in the Agriculture Department, said the province remains FMD-free.

“All livestock owners are urged to continue to only purchase animals from reliable sources, and preferably not from affected provinces. It is highly recommended that a veterinary certificate accompany the animals,” said James.

“A private veterinarian indicates on the certificate that the disease does not occur in the area of origin and that the animals are clinically healthy. Animals must then be kept isolated for a period of at least four weeks at the farms to which they have been transported before they are integrated with the rest of the herd,” said James.

She said buying animals at an auction remains very risky and is not advised, and animal transport vehicles and feed can also be sources of the FMD virus.

The Red Meat Producers Organisation (RPO) also warned of the disease, saying that FMD is a state-controlled disease and therefore neither the RPO nor any other private organisation has the mandate to intervene with the processes of reporting or control over the situation unless instructed by the government.

“The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development reported on the most recent FMD cases on May 2, 2024, and producers must familiarise themselves with the current situation.”

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