November 1, 2023

By Dr. Sakajira

Zambia is no stranger to “strange disease” outbreaks. Mostly, these diseases are usually attributed to human commissions or omissions.  A few years ago, I listened to a community leader trying to explain the strange disease that he described as having originated from a pig market in Who-honey (Wuhan)to his faithfully listening subjects. In the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic, a lot of communities were awakened to a knowledge and interest on the intricate balance of diseases in nature. The many awareness campaigns clearly made a significant difference in curbing the spread of the disease. Never again, would anyone be careless in the face of a strange disease outbreak- at least, a good number of us thought so. But no!

recently, a strange disease broke out in various parts of Siavonga and has since spread toother parts of the country. The strange disease has garnered enough attention as it has ravaged the livestock, wildlife and human population, transitioning from “strange disease” to Anthrax. so, what really is Anthrax?

Anthrax isa bacterial disease caused by a capsulated, spore forming bacterium.  The inactive spores survive in the environment, like soil for decades, easily overcoming the cold temperatures, and other harsh environmental conditions. Once in the body and activated, the bacteria can then multiply and spread throughout the body causing infection.

The disease in Animals can occur directly from the soil or from fodder grown on infected soil, discharge from infected animals, contaminated feed or excreta or blood from infected animals. Spread of these organisms maybe compounded by streams, insects, fecal contamination from infected animals and birds as well as carnivorous animals.

In Humans, the disease is usually established when spores get in the body through ingestion, inhalation or through breaks in the skin. This happens when one breathes in spores, or gets spores through a cut or scrape in skin. The current sporadic outbreaks in various parts of the country are mostly attributed to consumption of meat from animals, domestic and livestock from infected animals. Several videos showing children playing near dead carcasses of animals suspected to have died from Anthrax, people handling dead animals without proper personal protective equipment and people cutting up dead wildlife and domestic animals with a view to consuming it have been shared widely, showing the risk for further spread of the disease. This once again shows how community-based awareness raising campaigns are important in management of diseases. It further shows how important the one health concept can contribute greatly to preserve animals, humans and the environment.

Anthrax is mainly characterized by animals usually found dead without premonitory signs. In the acute form of the disease, a fever, severe depression and tremors before death maybe observed. Following death, the animals usually have a discharge of blood from the nostrils, mouth, anus and vulva. In Humans, anthrax symptoms depend on route of infection. The cutaneous form which is as a result of the bacteria entering through broken skin produces soles on the skin and is the most common. Gastrointestinal anthrax, resulting from consumption of undercooked meat from an infected animal manifests through vomiting, abdominal pain, severe bloody diarrhea (late stage), loss of appetite and fever. On the other hand, inhalation Anthrax has flu like symptoms.

The disease is however preventable through vaccination in areas known for sporadic outbreaks of the disease.  The disease can also be effectively controlled through control of meat and milking producing animals to prevent risk of transmission to humans. During an outbreak, animal movements are restricted with animals quarantined and dead carcasses carefully disposed followed by thorough disinfection of premises and practicing high biosecurity protocols.

Through the lens of the anthrax outbreak, we have once again learnt the challenges that exist in the prevention, management and control of diseases. While the economical, and animal and human lives lost has triggered a positive attitude towards how we handle future and related outbreaks, it is strange that we seem to be a sleeping citizenry only awakened by “strange diseases” that have existed since time immemorial.

Next time you come across a dead carcass exhibiting any of the signs exhibited above, do not open or touch the carcass, or even eat the meat. The majority of infectious diseases in humans have an animal origin, and if we all take precautions and interest in these safety measures, we would have less of these strange diseases.
Dr. Sakajila (BVM) Author is a passionate advocate for the prudent use of antimicrobials and practices veterinary medicine in Zambia. He has a strong working background in veterinary pharmaceuticals, which includes handling antimicrobials and reviewing pharmacovigilance reports and tracking antimicrobial resistance patterns especially in poultry.

Read More