On Sunday, 16th of July, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), confirmed one case of Anthrax disease in a mixed livestock farm in Niger State. The first anthrax outbreak in West Africa was reported in Ghana in June 2023. There is no confirmed case of human infection yet, but we should all be at alert.
WHAT IS ANTHRAX?
Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium. It primarily affects animals such as cows, goats, sheep, pigs, camels and wild animals; but it can also affect humans.
Humans can contract anthrax if they come in close contact with the bacterial spores from infected animals or consume them. Hence, it is known as a zoonotic infection.
CAUSE OF ANTHRAX
- Anthrax is a bacterial infection, caused by Bacillus
- This is a gram-positive, rod-shaped bacterium.
- Anthrax spores are not easily killed by cold or heat and can survive for decades.
- They produce toxins which then attack the body systems and cause symptoms
- Anthrax can be used as a biological weapon
- Human anthrax often is associated with agricultural or industrial workers who come in contact with infected animal tissue.
BURDEN OF ANTHRAX
Anthrax is an international disease with endemic distribution in Africa and Asia (developing countries). In Nigeria, anthrax is one of the first five zoonotic diseases of priority. The others are rabies, avian influenza, ebola and swine influenza.
Globally, there are about 2.000 to 20,000 cases reported annually.
HOW TO KNOW ANTHRAX INFECTION
The signs and symptoms of anthrax depends on the system of the body that is affected. There are primarily 4 regions of the body that can be infected by anthrax: the skin, the chest, the gastrointestinal system and injection sites (for IV drug abusers).
This known as Cutaneous Anthrax, and is the commonest. It occurs when the spores of the bacterium come in contact with non-intact skin, by handling the animal’s wool, hair or hides (ponmo). Non-intact skin are areas of the skin that have sustained injury.
Symptoms begin after 2-5 days as a small rash (reddish-brown) that develops into an ulcer with 2-3 days, which can then develop into a black lesion within 1 week and become very itchy. There may be swelling in the armpit or elbow (lymph node enlargement), headaches and muscle aches.
This is known as Inhalation Anthrax. This occurs when the bacterial spores are inhaled and it gets into the lungs. It is the most dangerous form of anthrax although it may sometimes take weeks before symptoms begin to develop.
It is usually common in works of the textile and tanning industries when they handle contaminated wool, hair and hides.
The symptoms initially mimic the flu (common cold) with mild fever, dry cough, chest pain and muscle aches. They then progress to difficult breathing, excessive sweating, more sever chest pain and coughing of blood. If not treated, it can progress to low blood pressure and coma. It can also cause meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain.
This is rare but can also become dangerous if left untreated. It occurs when contaminated meat Is eaten. The bacterial spores can affect the mouth, the throat or the intestines.
Symptoms usually develop 2-5 days after ingestion and they include: fever, sore throat, neck swelling, abdominal pain and bloody stools or vomit. It can progress to low blood pressure and coma.
This is also rare. The symptoms are similar to those of cutaneous anthrax with rashes that develop into ulcers and then black lesion. However, this occurs in areas where drug abusers inject themselves.
Injection anthrax can spread throughout the body faster than cutaneous anthrax and it is harder to diagnose and treat.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Thankfully, anthrax is a treatable and preventable disease. Without treatment, up to 20% of people with cutaneous anthrax die. If left untreated, more than half of patients with gastrointestinal anthrax die and all cases of inhalation anthrax will lead to death without treatment.
- Treatment involves the use of antibiotics at the hospital and other supportive treatments based on severity.
- Know the symptoms and be at alert.
- Report any suspicious case in humans or animals to the authorities.
- If you work with farm animals or meat production, ensure to vaccinate yourself and the animals and watch out for similar symptoms in them.
- Do not slaughter sick animals for consumption.
- Use personal protective equipment (gloves, facemasks, goggles, boots) when handling sick animals.
- Report any incidence of sudden death in your farm animals.
- Dispose your dead animals in an environmentally friendly manner.
- Those working in textile and tanning industries should also get vaccinated.
- Follow the advice of your healthcare provider.
Dr. Nwachukwu N.O.
- Vanguard Newspapers (2023) Agric Ministry confirms Outbreak of Anthrax in Nigeria https://vanguardngr.com/2023/07/agric-ministry-confirms-outbreak-of-anthrax-in-nigeria/amp/
- Cennimo, D.J., Hofmann, J.R., Cunha, B.A., and Bronze, M.S. (2021) Anthrax. Medscape https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/212127-overview
- Bush, L.M. (2023) Anthrax. MDS Manual https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/infections/bacterial-infections-gram-positive-bacteria/anthrax
- Nigerian Tribune (2023) Anthrax in Nigeria: All you need to know about the disease https://tribuneonlineng.com/anthrax-in-nigeria-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-disease/
- Elelu, N., Aiyedun, J.O., Mohammed, I.G., Oludairo, O.O., Odetokun, I.A., Mohammed, K.M., Bale, J.O., and Nuru, S. (2019) Neglected Zoonotic Diseases in Nigeria: role of the Public Health
- Veterinarian. Pan African Medical Journal, 32 (36).doi: 10.11604/pamj.2019.32.36.15659