Features — 04 June 2016 — by Adele Ramos
Outbreak of bovine rabies threatens Cayo and Belize River Valley

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 2, 2016–The Belize Agricultural  Health  Authority (BAHA) announced this week that there is an outbreak of bovine rabies, which it warns is highly fatal.

In its release issued Wednesday, it said that, “The disease is almost always fatal, but can be prevented through vaccination of animals and post exposure treatment to humans.”

“Affected animals will usually show nervous signs and aggressive behavior. Most animals will show excessive salivation as swallowing becomes impossible. Avoid coming in contact with animals showing these symptoms and immediately call BAHA Officers to report any suspected cases,” it added.

“The disease is currently being detected in the Cayo District and is expected to affect herds in the Belize River Valley, as suspected cases have also been detected in areas along the Macal River,” BAHA said.

“The spread of the disease can be halted if livestock farmers vaccinate their cattle against rabies. Farmers are warned that the disease can be transmitted to humans,” BAHA said.

Edmund “Clear the Land” Castro, Belize Rural North area representative for the ruling United Democratic Party, and Minister of State with responsibility for National Emergency Management, told Amandala that they have gotten the warning in advance, and he is heading down to Belize City to find vaccines for his animals. He said that the last time they were concerned about cattle diseases was when flooding led to a spike in blackleg disease. As for rabies, he said, it is usually associated with dogs.

Castro said that they will have to meet as a Cabinet and decide how they will address the matter, so they can help farmers. He said that most of the cattle ranchers in rural Belize District are small farmers who are poor, and “they have 10 to 100 and odd heads of cattle.”

Authorities have said that a mature bull sells for about $3 a pound and a 1,000-pound bull would therefore yield $3,000. In all, the losses could amount to tens of thousands of dollars if the spread of bovine rabies is not checked.

Humans can also be affected

Humans can contract rabies from handling infected cows. They can also get sick from drinking unpasteurized milk from infected cows.

Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero, told Amandala that he was recently informed by BAHA about the rabies outbreak in the Cayo area. He said that vaccines would be given both as a precautionary measure to workers who may handle rabid cows, or to persons who may have been exposed to the virus. There was talk of sourcing the vaccine from Melchor de Menchos in neighboring Guatemala.

The World Health Organization says that, “Vaccination against rabies is used in two distinct situations: to protect those who are at risk of exposure to rabies, i.e. pre-exposure vaccination; and to prevent the development of clinical rabies after exposure has occurred, usually following the bite of an animal suspected of having rabies, i.e. post-exposure prophylaxis.”

First spike of cattle diseases reported in March

In March, Amandala reported on the upsurge in incidences of two fatal cattle diseases: blackleg disease, which kills those infected with it within two days, and rabies, which causes death within 10 days.

Dr. Miguel Depaz, director of the Animal Health Department at the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA), told Amandala that 16 of the 25 cattle deaths had been reported from Toledo and the deaths in that district were all due to blackleg disease, which was determined through clinical diagnosis of dead animals. He said that infected cattle, which have been showing up in every district except the Belize and the Stann Creek districts, were disposed of. Laboratory tests had confirmed bovine rabies in four cases in Orange Walk and Cayo. We were unable to reach Depaz today for an update.

For more information, farmers can contact BAHA at 824-4899.

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