Oshakati — The Oshikoto Regional Health Directorate is hard at work to trace thousands of people believed to have been exposed to anthrax-infected beef.
Two people have already died of the disease and 3 000 are said to be at risk of anthrax infection.
The regional health directorate has sent officials out in the field to trace people who may have consumed the meat of cattle believed to have died of anthrax.
By Friday afternoon the Onandjokwe Lutheran Hospital was already swamped by hundreds of people from Omadhiya, a village near the Onandjokwe Hospital and other areas in the Oniipa Constituency where the outbreak was reported.
Anthrax is an acute disease caused by the bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. It mostly affects herbivores, but it can also be transmitted to human beings, and other animals. Anthrax is deadly and its spores are soil-borne.
It can survive harsh conditions and live for more than 70 years after the carcass of an infected animal has been buried. The bacteria is transmitted to human beings if a person with cuts on the skin gets in contact with an infected animal or if a person consumes meat of an infected animal or if they inhale anthrax spores.
This contagious bacteria can also be transmitted among humans. The Oshikoto regional health directorate has cautioned the relatives of people suspected to be suffering from anthrax to use gloves or plastic bags to cover their hands when touching the victims, and potential victims should be taken to a hospital immediately.
"So many people ate the meat of these cattle. Some were even selling kapana. That is why we believe that a high number of people are at risk," said Oshikoto Regional Health Director Pater Kefas Angala.
According to Angala, some of the people who turned up for treatment were already showing symptoms of anthrax infection, which include a skin rash and stomach ache.
Villagers allegedly continued to consume beef from dozens of cattle that were dying 'mysteriously' at the village - even though they could not explain the reasons for the deaths. The first cow died on December 21, 2012, and was allegedly skinned by a young man who is a student at the University of Namibia. Angala said the young man has already left for Windhoek, but he will be traced and treated before it is too late.
He said the pace at which anthrax symptoms are displayed depends on the amount of bacteria that penetrated the body and probably the victim's immune system. Therefore, some people may react immediately to the infection, while others take some time to react to the infection.
The outbreak came to the attention of the authorities last week when a woman in her sixties and her 22-year-old son, both from the village of Omadhiya in the Oniipa Constituency, died after complaining of stomach ache and nausea. At first, the relatives of the deceased allegedly refused to allow medical staff to perform a post-mortem, insisting that the two died of poisoning.
However, health authorities insisted on a post-mortem, which revealed that the mother and son did not die of poisoning but an anthrax infection. According to Angala, common symptoms of anthrax include stomach pain, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. "That was the reason why the family was convinced that that their relatives were poisoned," he said.
After the autopsy results were released, people from the area flocked to the hospital to receive treatment.
Angala warned communities not to slaughter, let alone consume the meat of animals that died of unknown causes. He said even the funerals of anthrax victims should be dealt with cautiously.
By Friday afternoon state veterinarians responsible for the Oshikoto Region were still carrying out tests in an attempt to confirm an anthrax outbreak at Omadhiya village.