Anthrax outbreak confirmed in five East and Southern African countries

Anthrax outbreak confirmed in five East and Southern African countries
People get anthrax by: Breathing in spores, Eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with spores, or. Getting spores in a cut or scrape in the skin.

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | In East and Southern Africa, an anthrax outbreak has been reported, affecting five countries and resulting in over 1,100 suspected cases and 20 deaths this year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have collectively reported 1,166 suspected cases, with 37 confirmed through laboratory tests. While seasonal outbreaks are common in these regions, Zambia is facing its most severe anthrax outbreak since 2011, and Malawi has reported its first human case this year. Uganda has documented 13 deaths.

Anthrax primarily affects livestock and wildlife, with humans at risk of infection through exposure to animals or contaminated animal products. The disease is not typically considered contagious between humans, although isolated cases of person-to-person transmission have been reported. Anthrax is caused by spore-forming bacteria and is naturally present in soil.

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In a specific assessment of the outbreak in Zambia, WHO revealed that 684 suspected cases had been reported in the country as of November 20, resulting in four deaths. Human cases have been documented in nine out of Zambia’s ten provinces.

In one instance, 26 people were suspected of contracting anthrax from consuming contaminated hippopotamus meat. WHO expressed concern about the high risk of the Zambian outbreak spreading to neighboring countries.

The overall outbreaks in these five countries are believed to be influenced by various factors, including climatic shocks, food insecurity, low-risk perception, and exposure to the disease through handling infected animal meat, as per the WHO.

Here are crucial details one should be aware of regarding anthrax disease:

  1. Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, which is naturally present in the environment, particularly in soil.
  2. Anthrax spreads through spores. Individuals at higher risk include those in close contact with livestock, such as farmers, veterinarians, agricultural workers, and butchers. Contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products poses a significant risk.
  3. Vaccination is a key preventive measure for anthrax in animals. Livestock owners and those involved in animal husbandry should ensure that their animals are vaccinated regularly.
  4. Providing optimal care for animals is essential. Regular health checks, proper nutrition, and prompt isolation of sick animals contribute to disease prevention.
  5. Implementing access control measures on farms is crucial. This includes restricting animal movement, controlling farm access, and practicing thorough equipment cleaning before and after use.
  6. It is advisable to avoid slaughtering animals that show signs of illness. Sick animals should be isolated, and veterinary assistance sought for appropriate care.
  7. Individuals should be familiar with the symptoms of anthrax, which vary depending on the type. Cutaneous anthrax presents with skin lesions, gastrointestinal anthrax with digestive issues, and inhalation anthrax with respiratory symptoms.
  8. If anyone exhibits symptoms suggestive of anthrax, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial for timely diagnosis and treatment.
  9. Before slaughtering animals for consumption or sale, close monitoring for any signs of illness is important to prevent the spread of the disease.
  10. Suspected cases of anthrax should be reported promptly to relevant authorities such as the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries in Uganda or other designated health agencies. Early reporting facilitates rapid response and containment measures.