Public Health Advisory: Anthrax Outbreak in Ghana
Public Health Advisory: Anthrax Outbreak in Ghana
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) and the National One Health Coordinating Unit (NOHCU) composed of stakeholders from the animal, human, and environmental health sectors are aware of a confirmed outbreak of anthrax both in human and animal (involving cattle and mostly sheep) by Ghana Health Service since June 1, 2023. There is currently NO SUSPECTED OR CONFIRMED CASE of anthrax in Nigeria. However, Nigeria’s close relationship with Ghana through border movement of humans and animals, and strong trade relations comes with a high risk of importation of the disease. Therefore, Government has put in place certain measures including:
● Establishment of a National Anthrax Technical Working Group (TWG)
● Dissemination of a press release to notify veterinarians, cattle rearers and the public of the outbreak in the northern region of Ghana.
● Development of an Incident Action Plan i.e., an initial response plan in the situation where there is an imported case(s) of anthrax in animals.
● Continuous sensitization programs on Anthrax.
● Conduction of a risk assessment to ascertain the likelihood of the introduction of the disease into the country and the severity of the impact of the disease in the event of an outbreak.
● Conduct surveillance in high-risk areas following the findings from the risk assessment conducted.
● Ring vaccination of at-risk animals in frontline states.
The FMARD-led national anthrax TWG is a multisectoral and multidisciplinary group with stakeholders from the human, animal, and environmental health sectors, as well as partners, charged with the responsibility to coordinate response and preventive actions across the country.
What is Anthrax?
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. 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.
Anthrax affects humans in three ways:
● Skin infection, i.e., direct contact with infected animals through wounds or cuts
● Gastrointestinal, i.e., through eating raw or undercooked meat of infected animals or their products including milk.
● Inhalation, i.e., 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. This commonly happens to veterinarians, agricultural workers, livestock producers or butchers dealing with sick animals, or when the infection has been spread by wool or hides.
Signs and symptoms
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. The blood of an animal that has been infected with anthrax DOES NOT CLOT on slaughter. Also, at slaughter, there is marked bloating and quick decay is observed.
In humans, depending on the type (described above) 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.
Who is at risk?
● People who handle animals, i.e., 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 etc.
● 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.
The anthrax outbreak in Ghana poses a great public health risk to Nigeria due to the dangerous and highly transmissible nature of the disease. This is particularly important due to the upcoming Eid-El-Adha religious festivity. It is expected that there will be significant movement, high volume trade, and slaughter of cattle and other livestock animals in preparation for or as part of this Muslim festival.
Therefore, Nigerians are advised to adhere to the following precautions to reduce the potential risk of infection and spread of anthrax:
● Avoid all NON-ESSENTIAL travel to the northern region of Ghana especially the Upper East Region where the outbreak was reported.
● Exercise caution when buying animals – cows, camels, sheep, goats, and other livestock – from Nigerian states bordering Benin, Chad, and Niger, and from Ghana and Togo via waterways.
● Carefully observe rams or cattle to be slaughtered for the festive period for signs of sickness before slaughtering.
● Do not slaughter animals at home, rather make use of abattoirs or slaughter slabs.
● Avoid contact with meat/bush meat or animal by-products such as skin, hides (“kpomo”) and milk of a sick or dead animal.
● Do NOT SLAUGHTER sick animals. Slaughtering the sick animal can expose the anthrax spores which can be inhaled by humans if the animal is infected with anthrax.
● Do NOT EAT products from sick or dead animals.
● Hunters SHOULD NOT pick sick or dead animals from the bush or forest to be sold for human consumption.
● Report any incidence of sudden death of animals to the nearest veterinary authorities or the State Ministry of Agriculture
● Anthrax is treatable when reported early. Visit the nearest health facility if you notice any of the signs and symptoms associated with anthrax for prompt treatment.
Preventive measures for livestock owners:
● Vaccination is the most effective preventive measure against anthrax in livestock. Consult with a veterinarian to develop a vaccination schedule suitable for your specific livestock.
● Use personal protective equipment (gloves, facemasks, goggles, boots) when handling sick animals.
● Do not slaughter sick animals. Slaughtering sick animals can expose the anthrax spores which can be inhaled by humans if the animal is infected with anthrax.
● Regularly monitor livestock for any sign of sickness or unusual behaviour.
● Immediately report cases of animals bleeding from body openings to veterinary authorities, or agriculture extension workers. Note: The blood of an anthrax-infected animal DOES NOT CLOT.
● DO NOT PROCESS or MOVE THE DEAD or SICK ANIMAL, QUICKLY REPORT to your VETERINARY DOCTOR or VETERINARY AUTHORITIES at the Ministry of Agriculture in your state.
● Maintain good hygiene practices on the farm through regular cleaning and disinfection of animal housing, feeding equipment, and water troughs.
● Practice biosecurity measures, such as controlling access to the farm, restricting movement of animals, and disinfecting vehicles and equipment entering and leaving the premises.
● Ensure a clean and safe water supply for livestock and avoid using water from stagnant sources.
● Sick animals should be isolated and strict quarantine measures implemented to prevent the spread of anthrax to other animals or humans.
Early detection and reporting of suspected anthrax cases in animals or humans is important for implementing effective control measures. If you suspect that you or an animal may have been exposed to anthrax, quickly seek immediate medical care (for humans) or veterinary attention (for animals).
In the case where a healthcare worker sees a suspected case of anthrax, Call the NCDC 24/7 toll-free line IMMEDIATELY on 6232 or the emergency number of the state ministry of health (SMOH).
For further enquiries, contact:
Email: [email protected] | FMARD +234 811 097 2378
Twitter: @FDVPSCNigeria | Facebook: Department of Veterinary & Pest Control Services – FMARD
NCDC Toll-free Number: 6232 | SMS: 08099555577 | WhatsApp: 07087110839 Twitter: @NCDCGov | Facebook: @NCDCgov | Instagram: @NCDCgov | NCDC Media Releases
Dr Columba T. Vakuru, Chief Veterinary Officer of Nigeria, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention