The Namibian (Windhoek)

Namibia: 22 Anthrax Cases Reported Country Wide

A TOTAL of 22 people are confirmed to be infected with the deadly anthrax bacterium.

The Ministry of Health and Social Services have embarked on a mass campaign to create awareness about the disease and warn people to be on the lookout for symptoms.

The disease broke out on January 17 in the Oniipa Constituency in the Oshikoto Region.

Dr Norbert Forster, the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Services, yesterday said the two people who had died had both eaten anthrax-infected beef.

According to him, the other 22 cases involve people who touched infected meat or the skin of the animals.

As a result, they suffer from skin rash and have blisters. They are all treated with antibiotics "and they're doing fine," he said.

Forster warned residents of the area to report animals that die to the department of veterinary services. "They should not slaughter and eat the animals."

It is understood that about ten cattle were infected with the disease.

Andrew Ndishishi, the permanent secretary, says anthrax is usually a fatal animal disease caused by a bacterium. "Anthrax in animals is endemic in the Etosha National Park and occurs from time to time in all regions bordering Etosha."

Humans, Ndishishi says, can become infected if in contact with sick or dead animals and may die if not treated early with antibiotics.

The bacterium, according to the PS, can survive in the environment for decades in the form of spores.

Humans can further be infected by inhaling the bacterium which then results in a lung infection. "The disease usually occurs between one to seven days after contact, but this incubation period may extend to five to six weeks."

Most people present with skin infection - itching of the infected area, then blisters and later a black crust.

Those who eat an infected animal suffer from nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, the PS said. Those patients with a lung infection suffer from coughing, difficult breathing and a high fever.

Ndishishi called on people who show these symptoms to report to a health facility immediately. "All persons who might have visited the Oshikoto Region during December - January and experience such symptoms, should report to the nearest health facility."

He stressed that prevention of human infection starts with prevention in animals.

Therefore, he said, animals need to be vaccinated and carcasses need to be correctly disposed of.

Infected patients are isolated and treated with antibiotics. "Mass vaccination and quarantine of humans is not recommended."

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