Vet on call: Vaccinate sheep against these nine diseases

Teresiah Wairimu Ngugi feeds her sheep in Elburgon, Nakuru County. There are about 11 diseases that sheep should be vaccinated against in Kenya.

Photo credit: John Njoroge | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Vaccination is an age-old proven disease prevention method that has helped control diseases in both animals and humans. In some cases, deadly diseases like rinderpest have been eradicated globally.
  • Sheep pox causes fever, nodules on the skin and lungs and death. It is caused by the sheep pox virus, which is related to the goat pox virus and the lumpy skin disease virus of cattle.
  • Enterotoxaemia is another killer of sheep that in most cases is just treated as diarrhoea. Some sheep die suddenly when the bacteria causing the disease produce large quantities of toxins.
  • Finally, there is blue tongue caused by the blue tongue virus. The name describes the bluish colour of the tongue in infected animals. Blue tongue is not infectious but is transmitted by biting insects and ticks. 

Kenya has a sheep population of about 19 million. The animals are kept across the country but most commonly among pastoralists.

Many farmers are, however,  not aware of the vaccines they can use to protect their animals against diseases that cause them heavy losses and preventable suffering to the livestock.

Most of the vaccines are manufactured locally while the others can be obtained from local importers.

Vaccination is an age-old proven disease prevention method that has helped control diseases in both animals and humans. In some cases, deadly diseases like rinderpest have been eradicated globally.

I have in past articles discussed vaccines for cattle, pigs and goats. This week, a farmer from Kajiado wanted to know if there are vaccines for sheep apart from that of foot and mouth disease (FMD).

A lot of routine publicity on FMD has led a majority of farmers to equate vaccination with FMD prevention.

There are, however, about 11 diseases that sheep should be vaccinated against in Kenya. FMD seems to be the best-known because it is highly infectious, widespread and causes a large number of deaths.

Sheep pox causes fever, nodules on the skin and lungs and death. It is caused by the sheep pox virus, which is related to the goat pox virus and the lumpy skin disease virus of cattle.

Severe viral disease

Another pox virus causes wounds around the mouth in sheep. It is called the pustular dermatitis or Orf virus.

The wounds sometimes get crusty and painful, making it difficult for affected sheep to feed. Such sheep may die from starvation.

Anthrax and black quarter also affect sheep, just like they do cattle. Anthrax causes sudden death in apparently healthy animals while black quarter causes blackening of heavy muscles, production of lots of a foul-smelling gas and death.

The two diseases are caused by toxin-producing bacteria. Anthrax may infect humans who come into contact with infected materials such as fluids and tissues of the animals or carcasses. Anthrax may also be spread to humans through the air if the carcass of an infected animal is opened.

A vaccination programme for sheep.

Photo credit: Courtesy

There is also peste des petits ruminants. It is a severe viral disease of sheep and other small ruminants that spreads fast in herds. It was first confirmed in Kenya in 2006. It is also called the plague of sheep and goats.

Enterotoxaemia is another killer of sheep that in most cases is just treated as diarrhoea. Some sheep die suddenly when the bacteria causing the disease produce large quantities of toxins.

Qualified veterinary personnel

The disease is most common in the wet season and often kills a lot of lambs and young stock.

Sheep are very vulnerable to Rift Valley Fever, a viral disease that also affects humans and other animals. The disease occurs when there is heavy rainfall in certain areas. Affected animals have high fever and abortion storms. Mortality among infected animals may be high.

Brucellosis, caused by the bacteria Brucella melitensis, affects sheep and goats and may also affect humans.

The disease mainly causes abortions in sheep with low or no mortality. Tetanus is not a common disease in sheep but when it attacks, the affected animal is unlikely to recover.

The disease leads to nerve paralysis caused by the tetanus toxin produced by the tetanus bacteria. Sheep should be vaccinated if the disease is noticed on the farm.

Finally, there is blue tongue caused by the blue tongue virus. The name describes the bluish colour of the tongue in infected animals. Blue tongue is not infectious but is transmitted by biting insects and ticks. 

All the stated sheep diseases can be prevented using vaccines as shown in the table below. All vaccines should be procured and administered by qualified veterinary personnel because of their stringent handling requirements.

satnation@ke.nationmedia.com