The deaths of two men in the Simdega district of Jharkand state that occurred in early May are currently being investigated by the state’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Program as suspected anthrax cases, according to the Times of India.
Despite symptoms of infection with Bacillus anthracis seen in the two men along with 16 other villagers in Bandarchuan, the two men had tested negative for acute anthrax disease. The cases had consumed cattle meat, possibly from a dead animal that had succumbed to the enzootic disease, as was the case in a previous outbreak in Simdega district in November 2014. Simdega district comprises the southwestern portion of Jharkand state, in eastern India.
Despite the rarity of anthrax outbreaks in Simdega, this district is considered anthrax-prone due to the bacterium’s ability to successfully live in soil by forming spores, which are its agent of infection in animals and humans. Human anthrax is endemic in regions where animal husbandry is commonly practiced; the infectious spores can be passed directly from contact with an infected animal, carcass or indirectly from the environment. Climatic events, such as floods from the monsoon season in Simdega state, can disperse spores and perpetuate transmission of anthrax.
Acute disease with anthrax can occur superficially in the skin, causing the cutaneous form, or cause serious, life-threatening forms if ingested or inhaled. Anthrax disease is treatable with antibiotics and antitoxins, but can cause high mortality rates in the pulmonary or gastrointestinal forms if not applied early in the prodromal stage.
The Indian National Health Mission had directed that suspected cases be treated in isolation wards with antibiotics in early May. The current approach by the IDSP is to set-up ‘awareness camps’ in the district to emphasize the danger of consuming meat from animals who appear ill or have already died from unknown causes.
Steven Smith, M.Sc. is an Infectious diseases epidemiologist