Anthrax alert: Why you should be cautious of the meat you eat

The death of one person and 30 domestic animals from Anthrax at Binduri in the Upper East Region has compelled the government to roll out drastic measures to tame the spread of the disease nationwide.

The Ghana Health Service on June 1, 2023, received information on two anthrax cases with one person reportedly dead after consuming beef from dead cattle.

On June 5, 2023, the laboratory of the Veterinary Services Directorate confirmed the presence of the disease after analysing samples.

On the same day, the Upper East Regional Coordinating Council placed a one-month ban on the movement of small ruminants and cattle along the Eastern corridor of the region, following an outbreak of anthrax.

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture also banned the consumption of meat from the affected areas.

The affected areas of the outbreak include the Bawku Municipality, Bawku West,  Pusiga, Garu, and Tempane districts.

A week after the ban on the movement of animals, the Upper East Regional Public Health Emergency Management Committee (PHEMC) shut down all abattoirs.

Almost a month after the outbreak of the deadly bacterial disease, dozens of animals have died from the disease.

The government has also banned the importation of livestock from Togo, Burkina Faso and Niger, except if the animals are vaccinated.

But what is Anthrax disease?

Anthrax is an infection caused by the spore-forming bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. It is a zoonosis (disease transmissible from animals to humans) that typically affects ruminants (such as cows, sheep, and goats).

Anthrax typically affects ruminants| photo: myjoyonline

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the bacteria produce extremely potent toxins which are responsible for the symptoms, causing a high mortality rate. Humans can catch the disease from infected animals or through contaminated animal products.

Experts say anthrax spores may remain dormant in the soil for long periods and resurface when the soil is disturbed, such as by flooding, torrential rains or landslides. The disease typically reappears when the spores are ingested by grazing ruminants.

Who is at risk?
a. People who handle animals, including veterinarians, veterinary laboratory workers, farmers, abattoir workers, butchers, cattle rearers, livestock producers and traders, wildlife handlers, hunters, park rangers, processors, importers, and exporters of hide and skin, animal health workers.

  • People who consume animals (cattle, sheep, and goats) found dead.
  • Healthcare workers, diagnostic laboratory workers and caregivers who are exposed to the sores of an infected patient.
  • Law enforcement officers (police, military, immigration, customs, point of entry personnel etc.).
  • Anyone travelling to a location with a confirmed anthrax case.

How infections occur

  • Skin infection, that is, direct through contact with infected animals through wounds or cuts
  • Gastrointestinal, that is, through eating raw or undercooked meat of infected animals or their products including milk.
  • Inhalation, that is, breathing in the spores (the deadliest form of the disease).
    The most common is a skin infection, where people become infected by handling animals or animal by-products that contain spores.

Symptoms of anthrax infestation among humans

According to the American Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the symptoms of anthrax depend on the type of infection and can take anywhere from one day to more than two months to appear.

Cutaneous anthrax: when anthrax spores enter the body through a cut or scrape on the skin.

  • A group of small blisters or bumps that may itch
  • Swelling can occur around the sore
  • A painless skin sore (ulcer) with a black centre that appears after the small blisters or bumps

Most often the sore will be on the face, neck, arms, or hand.

Inhalation anthrax: This type occurs when a person breathes in anthrax spores,

  • Fever and chills
  • Chest Discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Cough
  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains
  • Headache
  • Sweats (often drenching)
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Body aches

Gastrointestinal anthrax:  when a person eats raw or undercooked meat from an animal infected with anthrax

  • Fever and chills
  • Swelling of neck or neck glands
  • Sore throat
  • Painful swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Nausea and vomiting, especially bloody vomiting
  • Diarrhoea or bloody diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Flushing (red face) and red eyes
  • Stomach pain
  • Fainting
  • Swelling of abdomen (stomach)

Injection anthrax:  This type of anthrax infection has been identified in heroin-injecting drug users in northern Europe.

  • Fever and chills
  • A group of small blisters or bumps that may itch, appearing where the drug was injected
  • A painless skin sore with a black center that appears after the blisters or bumps
  • Swelling around the sore
  • Abscesses deep under the skin or in the muscle where the drug was injected

 All types of anthrax have the potential, if untreated, to spread throughout the body and cause severe illness and even death.

Anthrax symptoms among animals

Vets say Cattle and sheep with anthrax would suddenly die. Just before death, animals may show signs of high fever. Blood may be present around the nose, mouth and anus of carcasses.

However, there is also another observation that these symptoms may not be visible and therefore not be relied on to diagnose anthrax.10

Is there a vaccine for anthrax?

Yes! Anthrax vaccines for livestock and humans exist. Veterinary vaccines are used for the control of anthrax in livestock. However, the WHO says human vaccines are in limited supply and used primarily for the protection of selected individuals with possible occupational exposure to anthrax.

Prevention and control

Experts say preventing the disease in animals will protect human health. Breaking the cycle of infection is the major step towards the control of anthrax in livestock.

As part of efforts to control the disease, MoFA says it has taken the following actions:

  • Distributed a total of 100,000 doses of vaccine to all the districts of the region as of today June 21, 2023.
  • All the 15 districts (in the Upper East) have so far had their animals vaccinated, totalling 23,449 animals.
  • Bawku West District, Bolgatanga Municipal and Bongo District have 2,948, 2468 and 1,195 animals respectively vaccinated.
  • A total of 8,189 cattle, 7,819 goats, 6,913 sheep and 528 pigs have been vaccinated.
  • Additionally, 100,000 doses of vaccine are under production by the central veterinary laboratory scheduled for distribution by next week.
  • Early reporting of dead animals to the Veterinary Services for proper disposal is critical in containing the spread.
  • Sensitisation of the public on the signs and symptoms of the disease is ongoing.
  • The public has been advised not to consume carcasses of dead animals.

Beyond these actions, MoFA is urging the public “to observe vigilance, purchase meat from only certified abattoirs, and promptly report dead animals to the nearest veterinary units or health facilities.”

The Ministry has asked the public to contact the following experts on how to handle suspected cases of anthrax.

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