HealthNews

Anthrax Outbreaks Hit Five African Nations

The UN health agency says five countries in East and Southern Africa are experiencing anthrax outbreaks, with more than 1100 suspected cases and 20 related deaths reported since the start of the year.

A total of 1166 suspected and 37 confirmed cases have been recorded in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – where the disease is endemic, with seasonal outbreaks every year – according to data reported to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Of the five countries, Zambia is witnessing its largest outbreak since 2011, with nine of its 10 provinces affected.

As of Nov 20, the country had reported 684 suspected, 25 confirmed cases and four deaths. Only sporadic cases have previously been reported in animals and humans in Zambia.

The WHO says the outbreaks are presenting varied patterns in the affected countries.

In Kenya, three deaths have been reported this year compared with zero fatalities from over 200 suspected cases in 2022. While the disease is endemic in animals in Malawi, the country reported its first-ever human case this year.

Human anthrax cases have also been reported in three districts in Uganda, with 13 deaths compared with two deaths in 2022. The high case fatality ratio is due to patients reporting late to health facilities.

In Zimbabwe, human cases have been reported every year since 2019, underscoring the need for stronger preventive actions, per the UN agency.

“To end these outbreaks we must break the cycle of infection by first preventing the disease in animals,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said.

“We are supporting the ongoing national outbreak control efforts by providing expertise as well as reinforcing collaboration with partner agencies for a common approach to safeguard human and animal health,” she added.

The outbreaks are likely being driven by multiple factors, including climatic shocks, food insecurity, low-risk perception, and exposure to the disease through handling the meat of infected animals, per the WHO.

The outbreaks are likely being driven by multiple factors, including climatic shocks, food insecurity, low-risk perception, and exposure to the disease through handling the meat of infected animals.

Anthrax is a bacterial disease that commonly affects domestic and wild herbivores. Humans acquire the disease through contact with infected animal carcasses or exposure to contaminated animal products. 

Hospitalization is required for all human cases of anthrax, the UN health agency says, adding that Individuals potentially exposed to anthrax spores may be provided with prophylactic treatment. Anthrax responds well to antibiotics, which need to be prescribed by a medical professional.