The Ministry of Health has recorded a cumulative 335 cases and four deaths from anthrax disease across the country.

Meanwhile, Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) Director General Professor Roma Chilengi says anthrax can be transmitted from one person to another in case of excessive exposure to an infected person.

At a media briefing, Wednesday, Health Minister Sylvia Masebo said the anthrax cases had so far been recorded in Southern Province, Western Province, Eastern Province, Lusaka Province, North-western Province and Muchinga Province.

She also announced that a 12-year-old boy of Mpika District was among the fatalities recorded.

“Allow me to highlight where we have the current outbreak of Anthrax in our country. A cumulative 335 cases and four deaths have been reported across the country in the following provinces: Southern Province: 269 cases and two deaths have been reported in the province. They are distributed as Sinazongwe with 242 cases including two deaths; Kazungula with 17 cases; Livingstone with six cases; Monze with 2 cases; and one case each in Choma and Kalomo. Western Province: 19 cases have been reported in the province, distributed as nine in Sesheke, six in Mongu, three in Nalolo and one in Sioma. Eastern Province: 30 cases have been reported in Eastern Province. Lumezi district has recorded 28 cases with one death whereas Lundazi has recorded 2 cases. Lusaka Province: The province has reported 13 cases in Lusaka District with five in Kanyama and six in Matero, one in Chelstone and one in Chilenje sub-districts,” she said.

“Northwestern Province: one case has been reported in Kasempa District. The patient is said to have travelled from Southern Province with a history of eating meat from a carcass with unknown cause of death. Muchinga Province: Three cases have just been reported in Mpika District of Muchinga province from Nabwalya Rural Health Centre. Sadly, we have lost a 12-year-old boy among the three cases. Nabwalya is an area which borders Mambwe district in Eastern province. As we speak, a multi-sectoral team from Health and Agriculture is on the way to the area. All these patients presented with skin sores or ulcers with some of them having nausea, vomiting and fever. A few have presented with chest discomfort and difficulty in breathing. While the majority of patients are being treated from home, six are currently under admission in Maamba, Choma and Livingstone hospitals”.

Masebo said the ministry had implemented a range of public health measures to contain and prevent the spread of anthrax.

“We have implemented a range of public health measures following a One Health Approach to contain and prevent the spread of anthrax. These measures include: 1. Re-orientation of staff on disease identification and management to ensure early diagnosis and treatment 2. Enhanced event-based surveillance and early case detection 3. Ensuring that all facilities have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medication needed for treatment 4. Public sensitization and community engagement 5. Ongoing monitoring and clinical evaluation of discharged patients Working together with officers from Ministry of Livestock and fisheries, robust teams have been mobilized to ensure the spread of this disease among humans and animals is curtailed,” Masebo siad.

She said the anthrax vaccine was not yet available but antibiotics and drugs to neutralize the toxins (anti-toxin) could be used to treat anthrax.

“There are a number of options for treating patients with anthrax. These include antibiotics and drugs to neutralize the toxins (anti-toxin). Patients with serious cases of anthrax need to be hospitalised. They may require aggressive treatment, and help breathing through ventilation. All these measures can only be performed by well-trained health care workers and specialists. Though not available in Zambia, there is an Anthrax vaccine approved for use in adults 18 to 65 years of age. The vaccine is only given to those who may be at risk of coming in contact with anthrax because of their job. These include certain laboratory workers who work with anthrax and some people who handle animals or animal products,” said Masebo.

“I would like to appeal to all stakeholders to remain committed and actively contribute to enhancing community engagement. Those that may develop symptoms suggestive of Anthrax need to visit the nearest health facilities for urgent evaluation and management. Let us avoid eating meat which we are not sure of the source. If I were you, I would move away from meat around this time because you may never know. They say prevention is better than cure”.

Meanwhile, Prof Chilengi said anthrax could also be transmitted from one person to another, although this was not the commonest mode of transmission.

“The laws in this country are already in place governing meat and foods that we must eat. The guidance is that we need to follow the law, make sure that traders are selling meat to the public that is certified, fit for human consumption and the laws already exist and this must be the practice whether there is Anthrax or there isn’t anthrax. From the transition of anthrax as we understand it, it is definitely possible for a human being who is infected with Anthrax, especially the skin infection when they come in close contact to another person who may be having either breaks in their skin or excessive exposure from the infected person. A person with skin lesions coming in close contact to another can pass on anthrax to the next person. This is not the commonest route of transmission but it is a possible transmission mechanism,” said Prof Chilengi.