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Zambia records 684 anthrax cases, four deaths – WHO

Zambia has recorded at least 684 suspected human cases of anthrax, including four deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

The WHO disclosed this in its Disease Outbreak News obtained by our correspondent on Friday.

The global health body stated that this unprecedented outbreak marks the first major occurrence spanning nine out of 10 country provinces.

Anthrax is a zoonotic disease caused by a bacteria called Bacillus anthracis that typically affects ruminants (such as cows, sheep, and goats). The bacteria produce extremely potent toxins which are responsible for the symptoms, causing a high lethality rate in the pulmonary form.

Humans can develop the disease from infected animals or through contaminated animal products.

Hospitalisation is required for all human cases identified. Vaccines are available for livestock and humans in limited supply.

The United Nation warned that the risk of the event spreading within Zambia is assessed to be high due to the unrestricted animal movement and carcasses within and between provinces.

It also said the risk at the regional level is high due to the frequent movement of both animals and people between Zambia and its neighbouring countries, such as Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

“On November 1, 2023, the International Health Regulations National Focal Point of Zambia notified WHO of an anthrax outbreak in humans. The first human cases were reported from the Dengeza Health Post in the Sinazongwe District of the Southern Province on May 5, 2023. Around the same period, domestic (cattle and goats) and wild animals (hippopotami) were reportedly dying from an unknown cause in the surrounding areas.

“In June 2023, human and animal cases were reported in the Kanchindu and Siameja veterinary camps of Sinazongwe District. Twenty-six human cases developed sores on their face, arms, and fingers after consuming meat from three wild hippopotamus carcasses. The first human case was reported on June 16, 2023, and laboratory-confirmed by culture at the Lusaka Central Veterinary Research Institute.

“As of November 20, 2023, 684 suspected human cases, including four deaths, a Case Fatality Ratio of 0.6 per cent, were reported from 44 out of 116 districts in nine of Zambia’s 10 provinces. Sinazongwe district is the epicentre, accounting for 287 cases (42 per cent of the total of 684 cases) and two deaths (50 per cent of total the four deaths).

“The most affected provinces are the Southern (370 cases; 54 per cent), Western (88; 13 per cent), Lusaka (82; 12 per cent), Eastern (66; 10 per cent) and Muchinga (47; 7 per cent) Provinces,” WHO explained.

It added that the majority of symptomatic cases were epidemiologically linked to confirmed cases and not tested.

It said the latest large-scale outbreak reported in Zambia occurred in 2011 with a total of 511 suspected cases.

It, however, noted that response activities have been taken from both human and animal sides, such as active surveillance, case management, laboratory diagnosis, health promotion, Risk Communication and Community Engagement, meat inspection, and livestock vaccination.

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