KwaZulu-Natal has been experiencing an increase in brucellosis cases in cattle. According to a report by a veterinary services investigator of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN DARD), the status of brucellosis in KwaZulu-Natal indicates 1 430 positive cases out of more than 150 000 animals tested over the past few years. Some 73 animals tested positive in 2017/18, 139 in 2018/19, 423 in 2019/20, and 795 so far in 2020/21.

This high incidence of the infectious spread of brucellosis threatens to trigger great reproductive health, nutrition, and economic failures for most rural animal holders and consumers of raw meat or fresh milk from infected dairy cows, goats, and sheep across the province.

Scope of the brucellosis challenge

The report also states that 70% of the cases are from the communal dip tanks in the north of the province, where there is generally poor compliance with brucellosis vaccination and testing.

According to a KZN DARD livestock census, the province has approximately 3,2 million head of cattle, of which 70% (2,1 million head) is situated in communal areas with little contribution to the formal national beef industry’s income of R128 billion.

There are 2 055 operational dip tanks in the province and 53 livestock associations. Some associations must be rehabilitated and there is also a need for the construction of new dip tanks.

To add insult to injury, critical technical posts for animal health technicians, state veterinarians, veterinary public health officers, and veterinary technologists in the province are vacant, which hinders service delivery.

According to Dr Cameron Kutwana, director of animal health for Northern KZN, the DARD has initiated a vaccination drive for calves aged four to eight months with the S19 vaccine, and cows with RB51. This vaccination programme was implemented at all dip tanks found in the uMkhanyakude, King Cetshwayo, uThukela, and uMzinyathi districts. The DARD has also implemented an awareness campaign to inform rural communities of the dangers of brucellosis for both animals and humans.

Official results of this campaign are not available as yet. However, considering the increased use of the two vaccines – RB51 and S19 – in rural areas, as well as the increased number of inquiries at state veterinarians in the various areas, Dr Kutwana is hopeful that the awareness campaign will yield positive results.

Brucellosis spread and symptoms

According to a media statement by the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza, brucellosis is a zoonotic disease which can be transmitted to humans, mainly through the consumption of unpasteurised dairy products from infected cows and through the handling of birth materials, aborted foetuses, and newborn calves from infected cows. Humans show non-specific flu-like symptoms, recurrent fever, body aches and pains, headaches, and depression. The disease in humans can become chronic if medical treatment is not obtained.

The Animal Diseases Act, 1984 (Act 35 of 1984) places the responsibility on the animal owners to prevent disease in their herds, treat any disease present, and prevent the spread thereof to other herds. According to the statement, this is why cattle owners in all nine provinces of South Africa are urged to vaccinate heifer calves between four and eight months of age to determine the brucellosis status of their herds through testing, and to only buy cattle from herds with known disease statuses. – Izak Hofmeyr, AgriOrbit