A Consultant Infectious Disease Physician, Dr. Iorhen Akase, says there is an urgent need for the Federal Government to make funding available for monitoring and surveillance to effectively respond to the anthrax disease outbreak in Niger State and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the country.
He said this during an exclusive interview with PUNCH Healthwise and urged communities to be vigilant and adhere to advisories put out by relevant authorities.
Dr. Akase, who is Head of the Infectious Disease Unit and COVID-19 Response Team at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital Idi-Araba, said anthrax is a deadly zoonotic disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
The Federal Government, on Monday, confirmed the first case of anthrax in Nigeria, stating that the disease was detected in a farm in Niger State.
A statement from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said animals showing signs of a possible case of anthrax on a farm in Suleja, Niger State, were reported to the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer of Nigeria on July 14, 2023.
The statement, signed by the Chief Veterinary Officer of Nigeria, Dr Columba Vakuru, reads in part, “The case was in a multi-specie animal farm comprising of cattle, sheep and goats located at Gajiri, along Abuja-Kaduna expressway in Suleja Local Government Area, Niger State, where some of the animals had symptoms including oozing of blood from their body openings – anus, nose, eyes and ears.”
Following this development, Dr. Akase advised Nigerians to adhere strictly to health guidelines issued by health authorities, such as exercising caution when buying animals like cows, camels, sheep, goats, and other livestock, especially from neighbouring countries like Benin, Chad, Niger, Ghana and Togo, to reduce the potential risk of infection and spread of anthrax.
The infectious disease expert listed symptoms of anthrax disease to include high fever, weakness, loss of appetite, and bleeding from all body openings like nose, mouth, ears, and anus, among others.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, anthrax is a severe disease caused by the bacteria – Bacillus anthracis.
The NCDC noted that it can affect both humans and animals, including wild animals and livestock such as cows, pigs, camels, sheep, goats, etc.
The agency explained that the bacteria, which exist as spores, can be found in the soil, wool, or hair of infected animals, adding that people can get infected with anthrax spores if they come in contact with infected animal products.
Speaking with our correspondent on the country’s preparedness in tackling the disease, Dr. Akase, said, “First, we should not panic because panic worsens the impact of an outbreak multiple times. So, the first step is not to panic and to make sure that through communication systems, including the media houses and healthcare workers, people are informed about preventive measures.
“And people should pay attention to advisories that are given by relevant authorities. For every outbreak, some advisories are consistent with the transmission mechanism of that infection.
“But that can be amplified by communication both from those that communicate the risk from the relevant authorities and also media houses in the way they go about reporting these things.”
Dr. Akase said the country has the human capacity to manage the disease, adding, “I know for years, the country has been trying to integrate the concept known as one health approach that recognises that human health, animal health and environment play an intricate role one with another.
He said, “Now, we are seeing more than ever before the re-emergence of diseases. This is due to the interplay of three factors – the environment, animals and humans being vulnerable to these diseases.
“We have the human capacity to manage the disease. We have personnel who are well-experienced to manage the disease. We are well equipped. We have structures in place.
“But what is important now is the right political will and support from the Federal Government. The government should make funding available for monitoring, surveillance, case management and coordination.
“The government should put the right people in place for quick decision-making and also to remove unnecessary bottlenecks that will delay policy implementation. There is need also for the government to provide financial support for public hospitals managing infected patients.”
Dr. Akase urged communities to join the preparedness, noting that it goes beyond the government.
Recall that the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ernest Umakhihe, in a statement, explained that anthrax spores, a bacterial disease naturally found in the soil, commonly affecting both domestic and wild animals had claimed some lives.
He said, “People can get infected with anthrax spores if they come in contact with infected animal products,” saying anthrax is a contagious disease and cannot be transmitted by coming in contact with infected persons.”
The Permanent Secretary listed the signs of anthrax to include flu-like symptoms, such as cough, fever and muscle aches, saying if it is not diagnosed and treated early, it can lead to Pneumonia, severe lung problems, difficulty in breathing, shock and death.
He added that being a bacterial disease, it responds to treatment with antibiotics and supportive therapy, noting that the disease is primarily an animal disease, but because of man’s closeness to animals, non-vaccinated animals with anthrax can easily be transmitted to man through the inhalation of anthrax spores or consumption of contaminated or infected animal products, such as hides and skin, meat or milk.
The Senate last week called for nationwide vaccination of livestock especially in the border states to prevent the outbreak of anthrax disease in the country.
It also urged the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism to begin intensive awareness campaigns to sensitise Nigerians on the outbreak of the disease, symptoms for early detection and prevention guidelines.
Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had earlier alerted the general public on the outbreak of Anthrax within the West African Sub-Region; specifically, Northern Ghana bordering Burkina Faso and Togo.
The Ministry said infected dead animals be buried deep into the soil along with equipment used in the burial after applying chemicals that will kill the anthrax spores.
It also urged the general public to desist from the consumption of cow hides, smoked meat and bush meat, as they pose serious risks until the situation is brought under control.
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