Marvelous Moyo Gwanda Correspondent—
A Bulawayo nurse is feared to have contracted anthrax following the recent outbreak of the disease in Matabeleland South where it infected 48 people and killed 55 head of cattle. A total of 4,113 head of cattle are said to be at risk of contracting the highly infectious disease. Anthrax, which can be fatal if not treated, can be transmitted through eating the meat of infected animals.
Bulawayo City Council’s senior public relations officer Nesisa Mpofu yesterday said the city’s emergency preparedness and response team was following up on a nurse from the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) who has shown anthrax-like symptoms, after eating meat in Esigodini. Laboratory results were expected yesterday said Mpofu, but The Chronicle failed to get them. She said meat inspection is being intensified, adding health workers are ready for cases of anthrax. “The Health Services Department is in touch with surrounding provinces and is closely monitoring the situation,” she said.
Villagers from more than 15 homesteads in Umzingwane district lost their cattle to the disease which was first detected last week. Dogs that consumed the contaminated meat were reported to have also fallen ill. The disease is concentrated in eight villages; Gongo, Thusi, Sibomvu, Mzingwane, Msizini, Irrisvale, Chalimbe and Godlwayo.
Matabeleland South acting veterinary officer Dr Mbuso Moyo yesterday told the provincial Civil Protection Unit (CPU) meeting in Gwanda Town that cattle from Mzola, Mahanka and Glenlatagen dip tanks in Umzingwane were at risk.
“Officially, 55 cattle have died of anthrax. I’m aware that by Saturday, we still had some animals dying. About 4,113 cattle are at risk,” he said, adding that ruminants such as sheep and goats were also susceptible. Donkeys and pigs have lower risk. “Farmers should make sure that all ruminants are vaccinated,” said Dr Moyo.
This highly infectious but preventable disease was reported in wards 3, 4 and 5 in Emawabeni area which, according to the veterinary expert, was not in the traditional disease outbreak zone where they normally vaccinate animals against the disease.
Umzingwane district, which has been quarantined, is battling to prevent the spread of the disease as farmers are expected to source the vaccines on their own to save their livestock. “We would require almost 20,000 doses of vaccines and about 500 litres of fuel which we believe would go a long way to manage this problem,” said Dr Moyo.
This festive season would not be the same for Umzingwane villagers as they have been discouraged from slaughtering any animals due to the outbreak. They have been advised to eat chicken or source inspected beef from registered suppliers outside Umzingwane.
“Those who’re going to slaughter will be doing so at their own risk,” Dr Moyo said. The veterinary services department, Ministry of Health and Zimbabwe Republic Police have stepped up efforts to fight anthrax. Only inspected meat with stamps and roller marks will be allowed to be transported.
“We will be visible at check points, starting tomorrow (today) even on the highways, we will have teams searching vehicles to make sure no animal products are carried around. Uninspected meat has a high risk of spreading anthrax,” Dr Moyo said.
Even drums made of animal skin, bones, biltong and horns being moved around, would be confiscated and destroyed. Reading material such as posters and pamphlets would be given to communities to equip them with information on anthrax to complement awareness creation programmes already in place.
Dr Gladwin Muchena from the Provincial Medical Directorate said no human fatalities have been recorded so far. He said 95 percent of the affected persons presented with cutaneous (skin) anthrax which is curable. “All 48 were treated successfully and discharged. We only had one case, which we suspect may be gastrointestinal anthrax but again this patient was treated and discharged,” said Dr Muchena.
He said there was no evidence of the disease transmission from human to human. “We need to increase awareness that people don’t consume animals that collapse and die. “It’s important to note that this is a disease that affects both humans and animals and this is anthrax coming from the animals to human beings.
“In as much as the Ministry of Health on its own can go around and treating all the cases, as long as cows are dying in the community and people continue to eat the cows, we’ll continue to have a problem, so we need to have a wholesome approach to this. We need everyone to come in and assist through health awareness and education campaigns,” he said.
Assistant Commissioner Hosiah Mukombero who chaired the CPU meeting said there was a need to conduct serious awareness programmes to contain the disease.
“We’ve 24-hour roadblocks along Filabusi-Zvishavane highway, Bulawayo-Gwanda highway and also a 24-hour check point at Emawabeni leading to ward three and ward four.
“We also have teams that are going to support especially in the campaign. We’ve teamed up with veterinary department and Ministry of Health so that we spread the word together.
“We also have teams that are going around inspecting the butcheries to ensure that they don’t have any meat that’s coming from within the affected area and also to look at the abattoirs to ensure that they don’t slaughter any animals,” said Asst Comm Mukombero.
Farmers have been encouraged to engage the veterinary department for proper administration of vaccines on animals. The most common symptoms of anthrax are skin lesions that may appear on any part of the body, but mostly on hands and face. The lesions are characterised by a depressed black scar.
Some present with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. In rare cases it presents with difficulty in breathing, especially when there is lung exposure.
Diseases such as foot and mouth although now under control as well as drought have seen farmers in the province losing their livestock and this has been a threat to livestock development in the cattle ranching area of Matabeleland South Province.