Is it safe to drink milk as Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) spreads

The incidence of Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD), a viral transboundary animal disease that primarily affects cattle and domestic water buffalo, outbreak that started in January 2023 in Bhutan has witnessed an unprecedented increase since March.

This has left many people worried about the consumption of milk and other dairy products. Most farmers are also not milking their cows fearing the disease. The most affected dzongkhags are Sarpang and Tsirang but it has spread to other Dzongkhags too.

The lumpy skin disease virus (LSDV) causes the development of nodules or lumps on the skin of the animal, along with other clinical signs. It is not a zoonotic disease, and hence it is not a disease of public health concern.

According to the Department of Livestock, the increase in cases of LSD is attributed to the rise in ambient temperature and increased fly activity, both of which are known to contribute to the spread of the disease.

Farmer Dorji Wangchuk from Sarpang said, “Our cows are recovering now, but during the outbreak of the disease, we made sure not to milk the cow because we thought we might contract the disease. But now that we know that it does not spread to humans, we can milk the cows and sell our dairy products.”

He said that the process of milking cows is going as normal, and people are selling their products as usual. It was informed that there is no increase or decrease in the price of dairy products.

Farmers from Tsirang and Samdrup Jongkhar also said that their cows are recovering. However, people still worry about the consumption of dairy products.

The Department of Livestock (DoL) clarifies that it is okay to consume the milk from the affected animals after boiling them properly. DoL advises farmers to milk their cows, as not milking could lead to the death of the cows. Today, to address the escalating situation, response measures have been implemented in accordance with the National LSD Prevention and Control Plan 2021.

These measures primarily focus on early detection and isolation of infected animals, symptomatic treatment of affected animals as there is no effective treatment currently developed for LSD, and imposing movement restrictions as the long-distance spread of LSD is associated with the transport of live cattle.

Similarly, the measures in place to control and prevent the spread of LSD among dairy herds are livestock officials in the field (geog livestock extension centre, dzongkhag veterinary hospital, and regional veterinary hospital & epidemiology centre) providing round-the-clock veterinary services to control the outbreak.

Dzongkhag livestock sectors, based on the risk, have implemented intra-dzongkhag and inter-dzongkhag cattle movement restrictions to control the spread of disease from infected areas to disease-free areas and protect the unaffected herds.

The National Centre for Animal Health is managing the surge in medicine requirements through emergency procurement to ensure the available medicine does not run out of stock.

According to DoL, awareness on LSD prevention and control for livestock farmers is being created through TV, radio, social media platforms, and during public gatherings in geogs.

“Based on our assessment on the need and impact of vaccination, we have come up with a strategic plan for vaccination to prevent future outbreaks, and we are currently in the process of getting the required approvals to source the homologous LSD,” DoL pointed out.

Although the mortality rate from LSD is low, economic losses result from loss of condition, decreased milk production, and reproductive losses such as abortions and infertility. However, most of the LSD-infected cattle in the affected dzongkhags are reported to be recovering well with round-the-clock veterinary services provided by livestock personnel in the field and through proper care and management of infected animals by the affected farmers, according to the DoL.

Since the outbreak is not yet resolved, an impact assessment has yet to be done by DoL.

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