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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cowpox deaths have farmers in Pursat worried about rice

Cowpox deaths have farmers in Pursat worried about rice

Officials say improper disposal of animal carcasses has encouraged the spread of the disease among buffalos and bulls.

WHAT IS COWPOX?

Cowpox is a disease of the skin that results in red blisters. It is transmitted by touch. The English scientist Edward Jenner developed the vaccine for smallpox using cowpox, which he noticed was contracted by milkmaids who had touched cow udders. 

FARMERS in Pursat's Krakor district have expressed concern about the effect that a recent wave of cattle deaths - primarily due to preventable diseases including cowpox - could have on rice cultivation.

Ly Phun, governor of Krakor district, said that up until six weeks ago there were 200,000 bulls and buffaloes in Krakor district. Since then, 15 percent have died as a result of cowpox infection, a disease caused by a virus similar to variola virus and foot-and-mouth disease. Bulls and buffaloes are widely used for plowing rice fields.

Several officials in the province said that they had run into difficulty containing the spread of the diseases, in part because farmers had not been correctly disposing of animal carcasses.  

"We have told people to bury their dead cows - particularly those which died of infectious diseases - but they still eat the carcasses so the virus

keeps being transmitted to other cattle in the area," Ly Phun told the Post Sunday.

Bung Taing Lay, clerk of Anlong Thnot commune, said that even when it appears that cattle have died of cowpox or foot-and-mouth disease, their owners are reluctant to part with the food the cattle can provide. After the dead animals are eaten, animal parts are then routinely thrown out near where other cattle feed, increasing the risk of reinfection.    

Ly Phun said a vaccine shortage had also contributed to the spread of the diseases.  

Kuch Veng, 45, a farmer in Kbal Trach commune, Krakor district, said roughly 200 bulls and buffalos had died of the diseases in the commune since last month. He said he believes the diseases originated in nearby communes.

He said he asked authorities to provide vaccines but that his request went unheeded until it was too late.

He called for the people in his commune to vaccinate their buffaloes and bulls. However, he said it is difficult to persuade some villagers to vaccinate their cattle.

"The villagers believe more strongly in ghost spirits than in vaccine injections," he said.

Khlem Sokoun, chief of the Pursat Health Department, said the situation in the province had improved since he sent veterinarians to administer vaccines about a month ago.

"Before then, between 10 and 20 cattle died per day, but now only three die per day, and we hope that they will stop dying soon," he said.

"Now our staff are educating the villagers about the impact of contagious viruses."

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