The control of heartwater on large-scale commercial and smallholder farms in Zimbabwe
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Preventive Veterinary Medicine;39(3): 191-210
Permanent link to cite or share this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/33113
As part of a series of studies associated with the development of improved vaccines for heartwater (a tick-borne disease of ruminant livestock caused by Cowdria ruminantium), field surveys were carried out to assess losses associated with the disease and the costs associated with controlling it in the two main agro-ecological zones of Zimbabwe (lowveld and highveld) where heartwater is believed to be endemic and epidemic, respectively. In each zone, a cross-sectional study was performed in the main farming systems (smallholder (SH) and large-scale commercial (LSC) beef and dairy), followed by longitudinal studies in the same sectors to improve data accuracy for some parameters. Suspected heartwater-specific mortality in cattle was similar in all LSC sectors (p=0.72) accounting for a median 1 percent mortality risk. Heartwater-specific mortality in SH areas was not assessed due to poor diagnostic ability of the farmers. Few LSC farms and Sh households kept sheep: suspected heartwater-specific mortality in LSC sheep was 0.8 percent in the lowveld and 2.4 percent in the highveld. Goats were a major enterprise in SH areas but not on LSC farms. Suspected heartwater mortality in LSC goats was 0.8 percent at one site in the highveld and 17.5 percent on a farm in the lowveld. Application of acaricides was the major control method for heartwater and other tick-borne diseases on both SH and LSC farms. On LSC farms, plunge dipping was used most frequently and the number of acaricide applications ranged widely between 3 and 52 per year. The total cost of acaricides per head per annum was higher in highveld dairies than in highveld and lowveld beef enterprises (p=0.03). In SH areas, cattle plunge dipping was conducted by the government with an average frequency of 8 (+ or -) (sd) immersions per annum in both the lowveld and highveld. The type of tick control on sheep and goats in all production systems was highly variable (ranging from none to hand removal or intensive acaricide treatment). Suspected heartwater cases on LSC farms were treated with tetracyclines; treatment was not reported in SH areas. Reported treatment costs were high (median Z$120) and highly variable (range Z$4-833). Vaccination against heartwater with the live, blood-based vaccine was reported on only one LSC farm. LSC farms applying acaricide 30 or more times per year reported higher morbidity (p<0.0001) and mortality (p<0.0001) than farms applying acaricides less than 30 times a year. This finding supports the use of reduced tick control in the management of heartwater in Zimbabwe.