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India takes on foot-and-mouth disease by vaccinating animals

While the foot and mouth disease is playing havoc with the economies of developed countries like the UK, India has been adopting a more conservative approach of vaccinating the animals for the past three decades.

"Vaccinating the domestic animals against FMD on a regular basis is the best means of preventing the spread of the disease," says Dr S M Lal, the joint director of the Bangalore-based Indian Veterinary Research Institute (under ICAR), which is the only government-aided institution that has been has been making FMD vaccine since 1972.

"FMD is prevalent in an endemic form in India. But it is wrong to say the disease spread from here," he says.

India produces 25 million doses of the FMD vaccine annually, of which IVRI produces 4 million doses. The rest is manufactured by two companies in the private sector, Indian Immunological, Hyderabad and Intervet Baiaf, Pune. But the vaccine production is insufficient keeping in mind the fact that the country has 209 million cattle, 92.2 million buffaloes, 56.7 million sheep, 120.6 million goats and 15.4 million pig population.

"We are prepared to increase production as per government requirements," he says. "Animals have to be vaccinated at least twice a year as it gives protection only for 6 months.

In the case of calves it may have to be vaccinated three times. In a developed country like the UK the vaccination programme would be very costly.

FMD renders the infected animals economically unviable as the milk production drops and the animals do not gain weight and so are unfit for consumption. Their value in the meat market dips.

Hence farmers find it cheaper to slaughter the infected animals rather than go in for a vaccination programme." India has a policy of not destroying infected cattle and hence has chosen the vaccination option.

The vaccine is a liquid preparation which can be monovalent (against a single virus type) or polyval ent (against all types of virus). The FMD is caused by four virus types - O, A22, C and Asia I. "The present epidemic in the UK is caused by O type," says Dr Lal. "IVRI supplies vaccines to state governments at cost price," Dr Lal says.

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