Lethal disease that attacks in wet season

Majority of peasant farmers at the heart of Muranga, Laikipia, Kakamega, Narok, Kiambu and other counties have experienced tremendous losses to East Coast Fever (ECF).

They not only lost their high milk/meat producing animals to this disease, but they lost these animals after spending close to Sh4,000 trying to treat it.

The farmers in the great Rift Valley will tell you this disease has given them sleepless nights during this wet season despite all the hope that come with the long rains.

The long rains bring with them a serious challenge to livestock farmers; an increase in gastrointestinal worm burdens and an all time increase in tick population.

This is why you will be told about strategic de-worming of your animals before the rains to make them covered in the wet season. Now, let us shift gears to something more devastating — East Coast Fever.

ECF is caused by a blood parasite that shares most characteristics with the parasite that causes malaria although they are different.

It is caused by the brown ear tick that attaches on the ears of animals. This tick is tiny even at maturity and can only be noticed on close examination of the animal’s ears unlike other ticks.

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Due to the lethal nature of the disease, scientists have been working for close to five decades to find vaccine that will help farmers deal with this menace.

At the fore front have been the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (formerly Kari) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

This culminated in a national launch of this vaccine by the Director of Veterinary Services in 2012 in Kitale. This followed field trials in various parts of the country.

The ECF vaccine is now commercially available and widely used by most farmers in East Africa. Although the Ugandan government has not approved it, Tanzania has approved its use and they source it from Kenya.

Treatment

Unlike other vaccines, the ECF vaccine is made up of the parasites that cause this disease and if this is administered alone to the animal it has the ability to cause the disease and even death. Because of this, the vaccine is usually administered concurrently with long acting oxytetracycline.

This antibiotic acts as a blocker and prevents the parasites injected in the vaccine from causing disease. Due to this fact, the dosage has to be calculated as per the weight of the animals. Under dosing would therefore risk their lives.

The vaccine is packed in straws and has to be transported in liquid nitrogen just like semen. It is reconstituted with a diluent and should be used within two hours of preparation. Always remember to adhere to antibiotic withdrawal periods for milking animals. The vaccine offers protection to up to 98 per cent of animals vaccinated and it provides immunity for about for a lifetime. This is unlike other vaccines that require to be boosted periodically. The only animals vaccinated against ECF are cattle since they are the only ones affected.

Where to get it and cost

The vaccine is produced for commercial use by Kari/ KALRO and ILRI.

The ECF vaccine is now commercially available and widely used by most farmers in East Africa. Although the Ugandan government has not approved it, Tanzania has approved its use and they source it from Kenya.

Treatment

Unlike other vaccines, the ECF vaccine is made up of the parasites that cause this disease and if this is administered alone to the animal it has the ability to cause the disease and even death. Because of this, the vaccine is usually administered concurrently with long acting oxytetracycline.

This antibiotic acts as a blocker and prevents the parasites injected in the vaccine from causing disease. Due to this fact, the dosage has to be calculated as per the weight of the animals. Under dosing would therefore risk their lives.

The vaccine is packed in straws and has to be transported in liquid nitrogen just like semen. It is reconstituted with a diluent and should be used within two hours of preparation. Always remember to adhere to antibiotic withdrawal periods for milking animals. The vaccine offers protection to up to 98 per cent of animals vaccinated and it provides immunity for about for a lifetime. This is unlike other vaccines that require to be boosted periodically. The only animals vaccinated against ECF are cattle since they are the only ones affected.

Where to get it and cost

The vaccine is produced for commercial use by Kari/ KALRO and ILRI.

The Director of Veterinary Services stipulates that animal service providers who want to offer ECF vaccinations must undergo a one week practical training at the Veterinary Research Institute in Muguga, from which they receive a certificate.

Various bodies provide vaccination services including the University of Nairobi Clinical Studies Department in Kabete and other private entities such as Sidai Africa and Vet Aid.

Since the vaccine is administered concurrently with an antibiotic, the cost is higher than other vaccines.

It varies between Sh700 and Sh1,000 depending on the weight of the animal. Any animal can be vaccinated while calves can only be vaccinated from three months old.

ECF devastates livestock keepers and most resource poor small scale farmers can not be able to afford the vaccine since there are no single doses. The vaccine is packed in straws of 10 or 40 doses.

These farmers can therefore organise themselves into groups within which they can get the vaccinations done to avoid the high costs that come with treating ECF.

Despite the vaccine being relatively costly, those who have used it have confessed to its ability to prevent occurrence of ECF and with ticks having developed resistance to most acaricides, this would be the way to go.

Even as work continues on better but cheaper ways to keep away this disease, this vaccine gives hope to the livestock farmer to whom ECF is a nightmare.

The writer is a veterinary surgeon, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine University of Nairobi. [email protected]

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East Coast Feverlivestock keekinglivestock diseases