The Federal Government on Monday confirmed one case of anthrax disease in a mixed livestock farm in Niger State.
This is the first animal case to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the West Africa outbreak in Ghana in June 2023.
Government said the risk assessment conducted by the human health sector showed that the likelihood of an outbreak of anthrax disease in the country is high, adding that the potential impact of the disease on humans is high.
Symptoms include bumps and blisters (after skin contact), difficulty breathing and chest pain (after inhaling spores), and abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea (after eating contaminated meat).
Below are some important things to know about the disease that affects both humans and animals:
Characteristics of the infectious disease
1. Anthrax is a severe disease caused by the bacteria – Bacillus anthracis. It can affect both humans and animals, including wild animals and livestock such as cows, pigs, camels, sheep, goats, etc. The bacteria, which exist as spores, can be found in the soil, wool, or hair of infected animals.
2. Anthrax spores are resistant to extreme conditions and can survive in the soil or environment for decades, making controlling or eradicating the disease very difficult. The spores are brought to the surface by wet weather, by deep digging, or when eaten by livestock or wild animals when they graze.
3. Anthrax affects humans through skin infection (Direct contact with infected animals through wounds or cuts); gastrointestinal (through eating raw or undercooked meat of infected animals or their products including milk); and inhalation (breathing in the spores).
4. In animals, anthrax can cause symptoms such as high fever, weakness, loss of appetite, bleeding from all body openings (nose, mouth, ears, anus, etc.), swelling and difficulty in breathing, and bloody diarrhoea. It can lead to sudden death in most cases.
5. The blood of an animal with anthrax does not clot on slaughter. Also, at slaughter, marked bloating and quick decay are observed.
6. In humans, depending on the type and route of infection, anthrax can cause fever, painless skin sores with a black centre that appears after the blisters, general body weakness, and difficulty in breathing. It can also cause severe digestive illness that resembles food poisoning.
Those at risk
7. 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 are at risk of contracting anthrax.
8. People who consume animals (cattle, sheep, and goats) that are found dead, healthcare workers, diagnostic laboratory workers, and caregivers who are exposed to patients or their biological specimens are also at risk of contracting anthrax.
9. Law enforcement officers (Police, Military, Immigration, Customs, Point of Entry Personnel) and anyone travelling to a location with a confirmed anthrax case within and outside Nigeria are at risk of contracting anthrax.
Preventive and reactive measures
10. Vaccination is the most effective preventive measure against anthrax in livestock.
11. Ensure a clean and safe water supply for livestock and avoid using water from stagnant sources.
12. Practice biosecurity measures, such as controlling access to the farm, restricting the movement of animals, and disinfecting vehicles and equipment entering and leaving the premises.
13. Sick animals should be isolated and strict quarantine measures implemented to prevent the spread of anthrax to other animals or humans.
14. Exercise caution when buying cows, camels, sheep, goats, and other livestock from Nigerian states bordering Benin, Chad, and Niger Republic, and from Ghana and Togo via the waterways.
15. Do not slaughter animals (cattle, sheep, and goats) at home; rather, make use of abattoirs or slaughter slabs.
16. Avoid contact with meat/bush meat or animal by-products such as skin, hides (ponmo), and milk of a sick or dead animal.
17. Do not slaughter sick animals. Slaughtering the sick animal can cause significant exposure with the risk of inhalation of the bacteria by humans around at the time.
18. Do not eat products from sick or dead animals.
19. Carefully observe livestock to be slaughtered for consumption or sale for signs of ill health before slaughter.
20. If you suspect that you or an animal may have been exposed to anthrax, quickly seek immediate medical care or call the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development’s hotline at +234 811 097 2378 or the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline at 6232.
21. Doctors have several options for treating patients with anthrax, including antibiotics and antitoxins. Patients with serious cases of anthrax need to be hospitalised. They may require aggressive treatment, such as continuous fluid drainage and help breathing through mechanical ventilation.