Health officials in Lagangilang, Abra province in the northern Philippines are reporting at least 15 suspected human anthrax cases, according to a GMA Network report (computer translated).

Carabao Image/Alex S. Pronove
Image/Alex S. Pronove

According to the report, the patient displayed symptoms of skin irritation, sores on the body and chest tightness. It is believed they contracted the serious bacterial infection from consuming anthrax-tainted carabao (buffalo); however, authorities have not been able to sample the meat to confirm.

Health authorities are awaiting laboratory tests on the patients to determine whether this was due to anthrax.

In 2013, an anthrax outbreak among farmers in Lagangilang, Abra. Ten cases were reported. In May 2010, at least 41 were infected with anthrax in Villaviciosa town after they ate meat from 2 dead carabaos that died from the illness. None of them died.

Anthrax is a bacterial pathogen in livestock and wild animals. Some of the more common herbivores are cattle, sheep,goats, horses, camels and deer. 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.

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. 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.

LISTEN: Anthrax in animals: An interview with Dr. Buddy Faries

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.