Busaa to treat Foot and Mouth Disease in cows, is it drunk or sober idea?

Farmers in Rongai, Nakuru county have been forced to use "busaa", local brew, to contain foot and mouth disease outbreak. [Sarah Otieno| Standard]

Last week, there were reports in The Standard that farmers in Rongai were using a traditional brew – busaa to treat Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). The area veterinary doctor is yet to confirm whether there is a real FMD outbreak. However, the story elicited a lot of reaction from Smart Harvest readers with many asking me whether busaa can be used to treat FMD.

I will address that dizzying question today. Diseases have many causes; they can be caused by micro-organisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa among others. Other diseases are caused by deficiencies in nutrition while others are congenital meaning they are caused by genetic abnormalities.

Now FMD is a viral disease; caused by Picornavirus. Viruses unlike the other disease causing micro-organisms have a peculiar way of causing diseases. Viruses are so tiny; such that they can barely have a system to sustain themselves — a reason they are sometimes referred to as ‘infectious bag of genes’.

For replication, they ‘hijack’ other living systems ie cells, multiply and in the process damage such cells and in the process interfere with biological functions.

‘Prevention is the medicine’

Different viruses have affinity for different cells – what is called tropisms. For example, the HIV has tropism for CD4 cells. The clinical signs shown will depend on the affected cells. In most cases, immunity is compromised.

Viruses are hard to treat because of their ‘hijacking’ mechanism; they enter cells and ‘hijack’ its system to produce thousands or millions of copies which come out and invade other cells or are shed and contaminate the environment from where they are picked by other animals.

FMD viruses are susceptible to alkaline and acidic solutions and that is the rationale behind use of magadi soda in footbaths at the gates to farms or where there is quarantine on the disease.

This helps to greatly reduce the viral load in the environment. I am not sure how the traditional brew is working in the case of Rongai farmers, but if they insist it works, I will attribute that to the acidity or alkalinity of the concoction.

Although there are antiviral medications; most viral infections are difficult to treat. It is worth noting that most viral infections are cured by the body’s own immune system. What you are treated for when you have flu are the symptoms and secondary infections but not the viral disease.

When your doctor tells you to get lots of warm fluids and a rest; it is to boost the immune system to fight off the disease. This leaves vaccination as the only way of managing such diseases. The rule of thumb for viral diseases is “Prevention is better than cure”.

Luckily, there is an effective vaccine against FMD produced locally by the Kenya Veterinary Vaccines Production Institute (KEVEVAPI). The vaccine is available in a purified oil-based form, which protects against all the four strains of FMD virus.

The vaccine confers immunity for up to a year after vaccination, at only Sh215 per dose. With Sh300 a farmer can protect his stock against FMD for 12 months.

Indeed, this is cheap; cheaper than — a bottle of busaa — what Rongai farmers are incurring to ‘cure’ there stock. To circumvent around this, what farmers need to do is get into a group of about 100 farmers because the vaccine comes in doses of 100 and call a vet to vaccinate their stock.

If you fail to vaccinate your livestock, you expose them to this fatal disease.

Evidence has shown that FMD can kill young animals and severely reduces production in adult animals.

Highly contagious

Additionally, FMD is highly contagious and can infect cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, wild animals like elephants and animals and worst still it can be spread to man.

Use of local remedies in management of veterinary cases is an evolving field and a lot of research is ongoing. Research by Dr Daniel Gakuya documented that a mixture of raw honey and finger millet floor fastened the healing of FMD wounds; for that reason, I will not be quick to discredit the Rongai farmers. Farmers are full of knowledge most of which they have generated through on-farm experiments.

Nonetheless given that it is a preventable disease, vaccination remains the best arsenal.  Finally, always seek veterinary help when you suspect FMD.

(The writer is the winner of Vet of the Year Award 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council –KENTTEC, [email protected])