Anthrax: FG plans nationwide animal vaccination, experts urge vigilance

The Federal Government, on Monday, said plans are underway to undertake a nationwide vaccination of cattle, sheep and goats, following a confirmed case of anthrax in Niger State.

The Niger case comes weeks after the Federal Government alerted Nigerians to the outbreak of the deadly disease in some neighbouring countries within the West African sub-region.

The government, in June, specifically stated that the disease was widespread in northern Ghana, bordering Burkina Faso and Togo.

Consequently, the FG advised Nigerians to desist from the consumption of cow hides, otherwise known as ponmo, smoked meat and bush meat.

Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming bacterium, Bacillus anthracis, which primarily affects animals, such as cattle, sheep, and goats.

The disease can be contracted by humans who come in direct contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products, such as meat, wool, or hides.

Anthrax may be contracted through the inhalation of spores, while cutaneous anthrax can result from contact with contaminated materials or through open wounds.

In a statement in Abuja on Monday, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that the disease had spread to Nigeria, with a case confirmed in Niger State.

“On July 14, 2023, the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer of Nigeria was notified of animals manifesting symptoms of suspected case of anthrax in a farm in Suleja, Niger State.

“The case was in a multi-specie animal farm comprising cattle, sheep and goats located at Gajiri, along Abuja-Kaduna Expressway, Suleja Local Government Area, Niger State, where some of the animals had symptoms, including oozing of blood from their body openings – anus, nose, eyes and ears,” the ministry said.

The FMARD, which said it received the news with concern, stated that a rapid response team, comprising federal and states’ One Health Professional Team, visited the farm to conduct preliminary investigations and collected samples from the sick animals.

“Subsequent laboratory tests by the National Veterinary Research Institute laboratory confirmed the diagnosis, marking the first recorded case of anthrax in Nigeria in recent years and after the report of an outbreak of anthrax in Northern Ghana a few weeks ago. All animals affected have died,” the ministry stated.

It added that the Federal Government, through the FMARD, in collaboration with the Niger State Government, had taken proactive measures to ensure the outbreak was controlled and contained quickly in Nigeria.

“These include quarantine of the affected farm, deployment of anthrax spore vaccines to the affected and adjoining farms to vaccinate in-contact animals, and educating the farm workers of the affected farms on symptoms, preventive measures and what to do when they encounter a suspected case.

“Plans are also underway to conduct nationwide vaccination of cattle, sheep and goats against anthrax. Surveillance of anthrax will be heightened in livestock farms, markets and abattoirs. Public awareness campaigns on anthrax will be intensified,” the FMARD stated.

The ministry encouraged all livestock owners to remain vigilant and promptly report any suspicious illness or deaths in their animals, so as to avoid contact with sick or dead animals and their products.

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It urged livestock owners to exercise caution when buying animals, such as cows, camels, sheep, goats, and other livestock from Nigerian states bordering Benin, Chad and Niger, as well as from Ghana and Togo via waterways.

Also, the Permanent Secretary, Niger State Ministry of Health, Dr Mohammed Gana, said measures had been put in place to curtail the spread of the disease in the state.

He said, “The case was discovered in a farm between Suleja, Abuja-Kaduna Road.  We had been warned for more than a month now, so we had kept a lot of surveillance in place and when the case was reported today  out team was one of those that diagnosed the case.

“So, we are working in conjunction with other relevant agencies to ensure that disease does not spread beyond the farm where it was discovered.”

‘Don’t panic, take caution’

Meanwhile, Prof. Babasola Olugasa of the Department of Veterinary Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Centre for Control and Prevention of Zoonoses, University of Ibadan, has said that Nigerians need not panic because of the confirmed case of anthrax in Niger State.

Speaking with The PUNCH, on Monday, Olugasa said, “Actually, there is no need to panic. Nigerians should rather be on the alert. Anthrax is not one that disperses over space rapidly. No. It’s not airborne.

“We call it ‘point-outbreak’ because it occurs at a particular place, and except they move something (infected) from one place to another, it doesn’t really spread.”

The public health expert explained that, “Anthrax exists in cyst form. In other words, it’s encapsulated. When a pathogen is encapsulated, it is when the environment is ripe that it breaks open, and that’s when it affects people in contact with it at the environment where it has broken open.”

Olugasa said Nigeria had enough veterinary manpower across the country to tackle the disease.

He, however, advised the government to ensure prompt and regular communication with the public as a priority.

“In times like this, vets should please pay more attention to farms that keep cattle, sheep and goats, and should encourage farmers to speak up if they find anything strange about their animals,” he added.

Similarly, the Director, Centre for Control and Prevention of Zoonoses, University of Ibadan, Prof. Simeon Cadmus, emphasised that there was a need to vaccinate all other animals on the farm, within the range of the location of the affected farm.

He said, “The government should expand the health coverage of the farm to other farms around. Expanded surveillance should be drifted to abattoirs, markets, and related farms around.

“It is very essential that all other animals are vaccinated immediately, not to be delayed or postponed and they should be covered with the specific anti-biotics. Water bodies within the area should be condoned off, and people within the area should not take water from the streams around the farm environment.”

The don added that “All the animals involved (dead) should not be opened up. There are procedures for burying anthrax-suspected animals and this should be duly followed because if it is not buried appropriately, there could be an outbreak decades later. People should not touch or pick up dead emergency animals during this period.”

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