Agriculture officials in Nakuru County, Kenya are investigating an anthrax outbreak that has killed scores of animals at  Lake Nakuru National Park.

According to local media, more than one hundred buffaloes and two rhinos have died in the past five days.

Rhinoceros/  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Rhinoceros/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In addition, officials have killed animals suspected of having the lethal bacterial disease. Bacillus anthracis, the agent of anthrax, was confirmed by Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarians at the Lake Nakuru National Park.

Nakura County Executive for Agriculture Dr. Stanley Chepkwony said, “We are also warning people not to come into contact with these animals or their meat products.”

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 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 theirskins.

Bacillus anthracis/CDC
Bacillus anthracis/CDC

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 examplewould 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: cutaneous, gastrointestinal and inhalation.

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