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Zimbabwe: Anthrax suspected in the deaths of elephants, buffaloes and other wildlife

Outbreak News

May 20, 2019

By NewsDesk   @bactiman63

Anthrax is suspected in the deaths of several wildlife animals in Zambezi Valley, according to a Sunday News report. Several animals have died including at least eight elephants, several buffaloes,  impala, hyenas.

This follows an outbreak last year that killed more than a dozen hippos in the Binga District of Zimbabwe.

African elephant Image/Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Anthrax is endemic along the whole Zambezi Valley and because of this drought, the spores are now being exposed to the surface. For example, we had some heavy downpours which lasted two days after a prolonged drought which washed away the topsoil and exposed the lower part of the soils where the spores are. The wildlife will be drinking from those pools of water that will be infected with anthrax. We could have lost several wild animals,” said Hwange District Veterinary Officer Dr Lovemore Dube.

Anthrax is a very serious disease of livestock because it can potentially cause the rapid loss of a large number of animals in a very short time. Affected animals are often found dead with no illness detected.

It infects humans primarily through occupational or incidental exposure with infected animals of their skins.

Anthrax is caused by the bacterium, Bacillus anthracis. This spore forming bacteria can survive in the environment for years because of its ability to resist heat, cold, drying, etc. this is usually the infectious stage of anthrax.

When conditions become favorable, the spores germinate into colonies of bacteria. An example would be a grazing cow ingests spores that in the cow, germinate, grow spread and eventually kill the animal.

The bacteria will form spores in the carcass and then return to the soil to infect other animals. The vegetative form is rarely implicated in transmission.

There are no reports of person-to-person transmission of anthrax. People get anthrax by handling contaminated animal or animal products, consuming undercooked meat of infected animals and more recently, intentional release of spores.

There are three types of human anthrax with differing degrees of seriousness: cutaneous, gastrointestinal and inhalation.

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