Livestock farmers alerted on Charcoal Anthrax Disease
Livestock farmers, owners, butchers, traders, and consumers have been placed on red alert, especially this festive season, on the prevalence of Charcoal Anthrax disease, which predominantly affects livestock.
Though first detected outside the country, Niger Republic to be precise, Nigerians have been put on alert, as a large chunk of livestock consumed in the country is imported from neighbouring countries.
Given the supply of cattle and sheep from Niger Republic to Nigeria, there is an urgent need for precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the disease through the land borders, as more livestock comes into the country daily.
Two weeks ago, the Lagos State Government drew the attention of stakeholders in the livestock sub-sector to this threat, during a meeting with the Sheep and Goat Farmers Association.
On December 12, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) also raised alarm on the likely outbreak of the disease. This was contained in a memo with reference NCS/ENF/ABJ/033/S.114/VOLIII signed by Dimka V. D, the Comptroller (Enforcement), to Zonal coordinators, customs area coordinators, comptrollers and zonal commanders headquarters strike force.
The Customs said it got the information about the threat after it received a report from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and forwarded to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), on the outbreak of the bacterial infection.
Reports have it that the disease, first reported on September 23 in the border country, has caused the death of 22 cattle, with over 100 already infected.
The Charcoal Anthrax is an infectious zoonotic disease of livestock manifesting either on the skin, as a scratch progressing into a sepsis or as a pulmonary infection contracted by inhalation of the causative micro-organisms.
Anthrax usually appears during the warmer months, like the dry season. It is caused by the spore-forming bacteria Bacillus anthracis and can affect humans and a wide range of animals, particularly cattle and sheep.
According to veterinary experts, the disease occurs directly or indirectly through contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products.
One of the proven signs of infection in livestock is that animals die suddenly. Just prior to death, animals may show signs of high fever. Blood may be present around the nose, mouth and anus of carcasses.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), anthrax could cause problems in the skin (cutaneous anthrax), digestive system (gastrointestinal anthrax) or in the lungs (inhalational anthrax).
Its symptoms on the skin start with itching, sore, about seven days after being infected, blisters and progresses to skin ulcer. For the digestive system and lungs, the symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, bloody diarrhoea, stomach pain, cold, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, lack of energy and muscle aches.
However, in many cases this sign may not be seen, so it should not be relied upon to diagnose anthrax. If livestock die suddenly, even when there is no history of anthrax on the property, anthrax could potentially be the cause.
According to experts, to prevent a large-scale anthrax incident, it is critically important that the carcasses of cattle and sheep that die suddenly without any other obvious cause are tested for anthrax before they are moved. This reduces the risk of human exposure and minimises contamination of the affected property if anthrax is confirmed.
According to a Lagos-based Vet Doctor, John Onah, since about 30 per cent of live animals slaughtered in Nigeria are imported from neighbouring countries; the country is susceptible to the disease.
He said like other subsectors, livestock industry development is constrained by low productive breeds, inadequate access to feeds and grazing lands, frequent farmer – pastoralist conflicts, lack of processing facilities and low value addition and low technical inputs in the management of animals, including diseases.
While noting that the sector can create new opportunities for farmers and provide more affordable and healthier diets for future generations, he said it requires a complex institutional response that can stimulate income and employment opportunities in the rural areas, protect the livelihoods of small farmers and improve resource use efficiency at all levels of the value chain.
Another Vet Doctor, Jimi Olude, who confirmed that the disease could be transferred from animal to human, said Anthrax could take different forms. “As an agent of biological warfare, anthrax is designed to cause the lung form of the disease. People inhale the anthrax spores and, if untreated, are likely to die. Eating meat contaminated with anthrax causes an intestinal form.
“But most human anthrax over the years has come from skin contact with animal products. Cutaneous (skin) anthrax was once well known among people who handled infected animals, like farmers and others.”
Lagos State Government said: “livestock owners and veterinarians are enjoined to immediately report any suspected case of anthrax or unexplained sudden death of livestock to the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture or the nearest veterinary office in the state.”
Onah and Olude also suggested that any suspicious sign in animals should immediately be reported to vet doctors, before it gets out of hand.