In a follow-up to a report earlier this week concerning an anthrax outbreak affecting Western Province, Zambia, Western Province Minister Nathaniel Mubukwanu reports at least 17 people have been hospitalized in western Zambia after consuming meat from cattle which died from anthrax.

Cutaneous anthrax lesion/CDC
Cutaneous anthrax lesion/CDC

Fortunately, the 17 individuals are currently in a stable condition.

Mubukwanu said 40 animals died in Kalabo over the past week. 65,000 herds of cattle are currently at risk in the five districts  (Limulunga, Nalolo, Kalabo, Shangombo and Sioma) in Western Province.

Quarantines, restrictions and vaccination campaigns are in the works to control the outbreak. The public has also been advised not to eat or touch animals that die suddenly  as it was the main mode of transmission of the disease to humans.

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.