Tito Kibona from the research team, trains local veterinary health workers on surveillance methods. Photo: UoG.

Surveillance for causes of livestock abortion in Northern Tanzania closes important data gaps

Despite being one of the key causes of productivity losses, livestock abortion is not routinely investigated across the Global South. Some studies from high-income countries suggest that fewer than 35% of livestock abortions are attributed to specific diseases.

This leaves a research and knowledge gap on animal abortions in low-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and as a result, a lack of evidence for solutions. This is due to a combination of factors: lack of data collection at the national level, farmers’ restricted access to veterinary care, and limitations in diagnostic laboratory capacity. Many of the pathogens that cause livestock abortions are zoonotic, meaning they are transferrable from animals to humans. That means investigating the infectious causes of abortion is crucial not only to safeguard pastoralists’ livelihoods and the welfare of their livestock, but also for human health.

To address this data gap, a team of researchers, with support from SEBI-Livestock, undertook a study that combined field investigations and lab diagnoses to determine the causes of livestock abortion in Tanzania. The first-of-its-kind study collected samples from livestock abortion events from 71 cattle, 100 goats, and 44 sheep in three regions of northern Tanzania. The researchers found that 19.5% of abortion events were in fact caused by one or more of the infectious pathogens studied. Other causes can include physical trauma, poor nutrition and genetic abnormalities.

Investigating the causes of livestock abortion revealed important insights beyond simply providing data on how many abortions were caused by pathogens. In fact, detection of abortion in livestock can provide an early warning to humans that a pathogen exists in an environment, as many diseases triggering abortion in livestock are zoonoses. For example, the Tanzanian study also detected an outbreak of Rift Valley fever (RVF) in cattle. This triggered a retrospective review of patients at local hospitals with a fever and uncovered human cases of RVF which had previously gone undetected.

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Read the studies

  • Thomas, K.M., Kibona, T., Claxton, J.R. et al. Prospective cohort study reveals unexpected aetiologies of livestock abortion in northern Tanzania. Sci Rep 12, 11669 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-15517-8
  • de Glanville W.A., Allan K.J., Nyarobi J.M., et al. An outbreak of Rift Valley fever among peri-urban dairy cattle in northern Tanzania. Transactions of The Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, trac076, https://doi.org/10.1093/trstmh/trac076

Vanessa Meadu, Communications and Knowledge Exchange Specialist, SEBI-Livestock
Page created: 08 Sep 2022 Page last reviewed: 08 Sep 2022