In a follow-up on the anthrax outbreak in Western Province, Zambia, local media report six additional fatalities in the past five days.

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

According to Sikongo Health Director Fredrick Siyunda, the six victims contracted anthrax after eating tainted meat from cattle. This brings the human death toll due to anthrax in Western Province to eight since the outbreak began in November.

Of the six deaths, two were men while four were women. In addition, an additional two people have been hospitalized.

He said community members were allegedly hiding meat from sick animals in their homes each time health officers were on the ground to help dispose of the carcasses. This has prompted health officials to urge the public to stop eating meat from dead animals if the disease is to be contained.

Dr. Siyunda noted the government is active in ensuring people are treated and animals get vaccinated.

Anthrax is a 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 loss of a large number of animals in a very short time. Affected animals are often found dead with no illness detected.

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

Anthrax is caused by the bacterium, Bacillus 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.

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: cutaneous, gastrointestinal and inhalation.