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Kenya among nations experiencing anthrax outbreaks

Kenya is among five countries in East and Southern Africa experiencing anthrax outbreaks.

More than 1,100 suspected cases and 20 related deaths have been reported since the start of the year.

According to data reported to the World Health Organization, a total of 1,166 suspected and 37 confirmed cases have been recorded in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The disease is endemic in these countries, with seasonal outbreaks every year.

WHO said 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,” WHO said.

In January, an outbreak of the disease was reported in Kisii county where 10 people were admitted to hospital after being affected by the disease. Those hospitalised were said to have consumed meat from an infected carcass.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, noted that to end these outbreaks the cycle of infection must be broken by first preventing the disease in animals.

“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 said.

Anthrax is a bacterial disease that commonly affects domestic and wild herbivores.

WHO says humans acquire the disease through contact with infected animal carcasses or exposure to contaminated animal products.

Animal-to-animal and human-to-human transmission of anthrax does not typically occur, although rare records of person-to-person transmission have been reported with cutaneous anthrax.

Cutaneous anthrax is the most common of the three forms of the disease. It accounts for more than 95 percent of human cases worldwide.

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

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

“While the disease is endemic in animals in Malawi, the country reported its first ever human case this year. Human anthrax cases have been reported in three districts in Uganda, with 13 deaths compared with two deaths in 2022,” said the UN body.

Joint multidisciplinary teams have deployed at country level to support assessments, identify gaps and take measures to strengthen the outbreak response.

She said WHO is also working closely with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, United Nations Environment Programme and World Organisation for Animal Health to coordinate response in the affected countries leveraging the One Health Platforms.

“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,” Moeti added.

She said in Kenya, control measures are being implemented to halt the outbreak.

Human anthrax infections are recurrent in countries with frequent livestock infections, with the highest incidences recorded in Africa, the Middle East, Central and South Asia.

“Hospitalisation is required for all human cases of anthrax. 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,” said Moeti.

Source: The Star