Sporadic cases of the bacterial disease, anthrax, is responsible for the deaths of three animals at the Karingani Game Reserve in southwestern Mozambique, according to Dr Américo Da Conceicao, National Director, Veterinary Services, Ministry of Agriculture, Maputo, Mozambique last week.

Two African elephants and one greater kudu (a woodland antelope) fell victim to Bacillus anthracis, the agent of anthrax.

African elephant Image/Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
African elephant Image/Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

According to a World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) alert, two elephants were found dead close to the dried water pan with blood flowing from the trunks and mouth. The first animal fell down in sternal decubitus with both tusks supporting its head straight. The second elephant fell on its side with no sign of struggle. The blood was uncloted even almost 10 hours after the estimated time of death. Information from the rangers indicated that there was one kudu found dead also in the game farm with similar signs.

LISTEN: Anthrax: An interview with Dr Buddy Faries

Proper disposal of the carcasses, quarantine and surveillance measures have been taken.

Anthrax is a bacterial pathogen in livestock and wild animals. Some of the more common herbivores are cattle, sheep,goats, horses, camels and deers. Anthrax is a very serious disease of livestock because it can potentially cause the rapid lossof a large number of animals in a very short time. Affected animals are often found dead with no illness detected.

Elephants acquire this disease through grazing though they are primarily browsers. Because of the difficulties of controlling wildlife anthrax in African national parks, it is a widespread problem in the parks. And this presents a threat to livestock grazing in proximity to such parks.

It infects humans primarily through occupational or incidental exposure with infected animals of their skins.

Bacillus anthracis bacteria using Gram-stain technique
Anthrax bacterium/CDC

Anthrax is caused by the bacteriumBacillus anthracis. This spore forming bacteria can survive in the environment for years because of its ability to resist heat, cold, drying, etc.  This is usually the infectious stage of anthrax.

When conditions become favorable, the spores germinate into colonies of bacteria. An example would be a grazing cow ingests spores that in the cow, germinate, grow spread and eventually kill the animal.

The bacteria will form spores in the carcass and then return to the soil to infect other animals. The vegetative form is rarely implicated in transmission.  Strict enforcement of quarantines and proper burning and burying of carcasses from livestock suspected to have died from anthrax is important to prevent further soil contamination with the bacterial spores.

There are no reports of person-to-person transmission of anthrax. People get anthrax by handling contaminated animal or animal products, consuming undercooked meat of infected animals and more recently, intentional release of spores.

There are three types of human anthrax with differing degrees of seriousness: cutaneousgastrointestinal and inhalation.


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