The World Health Organization (WHO) reported on Monday that anthrax outbreaks in East and Southern Africa have affected five countries, resulting in over 1,100 suspected cases and 20 deaths this year.
In Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, a combined total of 1,166 suspected anthrax cases have been reported. The World Health Organization confirmed 37 cases through laboratory tests.
While these countries experience seasonal outbreaks annually, Zambia is facing its most severe outbreak since 2011, and Malawi has reported its first human case this year. Uganda, in particular, has recorded 13 deaths.
Anthrax mainly has its impacts on livestock such as cattle, sheep, and goats, along with wild herbivores. Human infection occurs through its exposure to animals or contaminated animal products. The World Health Organization notes that while anthrax is not typically considered contagious among humans, there have been rare instances of people-to-people transmission.
In a separate evaluation of the anthrax outbreak in Zambia, the World Health Organization reported 684 suspected cases in the southern African nation as of November 20. This has raised significant concerns and has resulted in four deaths.
Human anthrax cases were documented in nine out of Zambia’s ten provinces. Moreover, the cases of 26 individuals suspected of contracting the disease. It has resulted from consuming contaminated hippopotamus meat in one instance.
The WHO expressed a high risk of the Zambian outbreak spreading to neighboring countries. The outbreaks in all five countries are believed to be influenced by various factors. These factors involve climatic shocks, food insecurity, low-risk perception, and exposure to the disease through handling the meat of infected animals, according to WHO.
Mainly, Anthrax is attributed to spore-forming bacteria. It is occasionally linked to the weaponized form employed in the 2001 attacks in the United States. In that incident, five individuals lost their lives, and 17 others became ill. This incident occurs after their exposure to anthrax spores contained in letters sent through the mail.