Anthrax in IndiaIn the last one month, at least three different reports of anthrax outbreak have been reported in the media from across the country.  These are in Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Odisha.

In the first instance, 37 sheep were killed due to the infection in a village close to Vellore.  There were no cases of infection of humans in this instance, and the animal husbandry officials undertook vaccination of the cattle in the surrounding area.

In the second case, 13 tribal people of Bardega village area were hospitalized after allegedly consuming dead and infected cattle meat.  Once again, the officials were considering vaccinating the animals of the area.

In the last and most recent incident, there were actually human casualties – four people from the Jambaguda village died after consuming infected cattle meat.

What is Anthrax?

Anthrax is a rare, but potentially fatal condition caused by infection with a particular type of bacterium called Bacillus anthracis.  Normally, the spores of this bacterium reside in the soil and infect only grazing animals.  These could thrive in wild animals or cattle and livestock; the latter are the usual sources of infection in human beings.  Therefore, farmers, those who rear cattle and animal meat handlers/consumers are particularly vulnerable to developing the disease.  Potentially, anthrax can also be used as a bio-terrorism weapon.

What are the signs and symptoms of anthrax?

There may be three manifestations of anthrax in humans:

  • Cutaneous: skin infection can cause blisters that may ulcerate, and are usually found on face, neck, hands and legs
  • Respiratory: lung infection through inhalation of spores can lead to fever, shortness of breath, cough and extreme tiredness
  • Gastrointestinal: stomach and gut infection can lead to fever, cramps, bloody vomiting, bloody diarrhea, swelling of abdomen, enlarged lymph glands and sore throat

How is anthrax treated?

Depending upon the severity of the infection, the patient may have to be hospitalized.  Antibacterial antibiotics, such as cephalosporins, penicillins and doxycycline; or anti-anthrax antitoxins are usually administered.

How can anthrax be prevented?

Anthrax vaccine adsorbed (AVA) is the generic name of the anthrax vaccine that can be given ideally before contact with the disease.  As of now, it is not recommended that anybody other than the high risk group – farmers and meat handlers – should receive this vaccine.

The best bet is to vaccinate livestock, and take precautions while handling animal products.  If a person does develop signs and symptoms of anthrax, he or she should be isolated in a safe environment and given appropriate treatment.

Should we be worried about the spread of anthrax?

As things stand now, there is no need to panic.  All the three incidents of occurrence reported above have taken place in isolated parts of the country, for very specific reasons.  In Tamil Nadu, only animals were infected, and in the two other cases, humans were infected only after consuming contaminated meat.  However,  it is advisable to keep an eye out for any signs and symptoms of the condition.  People travelling to the affected areas should take due precautions before undertaking the journey.

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