What is the Anthrax disease that has been found in Kerala?

After several wild boar carcasses were found, Kerala health officials Thursday (30 June) confirm presence Anthrax, a serious infectious disease caused by spore-forming bacteria, at Athirapele, Thrissur district.

Health Minister Fina George confirmed the outbreak and said the government was taking immediate steps to prevent the spread of the disease.

Anthrax is usually found in the southern states of India and is less common in the northern states. Over the past years, it has been reported in Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Orissa and Karnataka.

What is anthrax?

Anthrax, also known as anthrax or wool hyperkeratosis, is a rare but serious disease caused by rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. It occurs naturally in the soil and, according to the World Health Organization, is a disease that primarily affects herbivores, affecting both domestic and wild animals.

Anthrax is a zoonotic disease, which means that it is transmitted naturally from animals (usually vertebrae) to humans. People can become ill through contact with infected animals or animal products contaminated with the bacteria.

According to the World Health Organization, anthrax is generally considered non-infectious. There have been cases of person-to-person transmission, however, such cases are extremely rare.

How do animals get anthrax?

Domestic and wild animals can become infected when they breathe in or ingest spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water.

The host animals shed the bacteria into the ground, which sheds when exposed to air. These spores, which can persist in the soil for decades, wait for another host to pick them up, and thus germinate and multiply, causing them to spread. Flies also appear to play an important role in the outbreak, according to the World Health Organization.

Herbivores can become ill through contaminated soil and feed, while omnivores and omnivores can become infected through contaminated meat, bones, and feed. Wild animals get sick by feeding carcasses infected with anthrax, according to the Department of Health and Family Welfare’s National Health Portal.

How do humans get infected?

Humans almost always get sick directly or indirectly from animals or animal products.

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People get anthrax when germs enter the body, through breathing, eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water, or through cuts or scrapes in the skin. The germs are then “activated” and multiply, spreading throughout the body, producing toxins and causing severe disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the US national public health agency.

Humans can become ill by handling carcasses, bones, wool, hides, or other products from infected animals. People who handle animals can get cutaneous anthrax when the spores enter through cuts or scrapes on the skin. They can also become infected with inhalational anthrax, by inhaling spores on animal wool, skin, or hair. Eating raw or undercooked meat from infected animals can infect people with intestinal anthrax.

People most at risk of getting sick are people who work with animals, such as farmers, veterinarians, ranchers, wool sorters and laboratory professionals, according to the National Health Portal.

What are the symptoms of anthrax?

In livestock species, such as cattle, sheep, or goats, the first sign is usually the sudden death of one or two animals within the herd. Before they die, they may show signs of a high fever. In the wild, sudden death is also a usual indication, often accompanied by bloody discharge from the natural orifices (mouth, nose, ear, and anus), bloating, incomplete death sclerosis, and absence of blood clotting, according to the World Health Organization.

In humans, symptoms of cutaneous anthrax can include clusters of small, potentially itchy blisters, and painless skin sores with a black center, with possible swelling around them. This is the most common route of the disease and is rarely fatal.

Inhalational anthrax includes fever, chills, shortness of breath, cough, and nausea, to name a few. It is the deadliest form of the disease and can lead to death within 2-3 days. Finally, symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax can include nausea, vomiting (with blood), neck swelling, stomach pain, and diarrhea.

And how can it be treated?

According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic therapy given early during infection has been shown to be responsive. Penicillin has always been the antibiotic of choice, and in recent years, ciprofloxacin and doxycycline have also been used as alternatives.

One way to prevent disease is to vaccinate livestock so that the disease does not spread. There are also vaccines for humans, but their availability is usually limited to individuals at risk, such as laboratory workers and people who handle animals.

What happened in Kerala?

The Kerala government was alerted on Wednesday (29 June), after the presence of anthrax was reported in several carcasses of wild boar in Athirapili forest area in Thrissur.

“Wild boars died en masse in the Athirapili forest area. Subsequently, the Department of Health, the Animal Husbandry Department and the Forestry Department conducted an investigation. Samples of these were tested for anthrax infection status,” Health Minister Fina George said.

She added that the department is taking immediate steps to prevent the disease. A vaccination campaign for domestic livestock has begun in the area, and people who handled wild boar carcasses are said to have been placed under medical observation and received preventive treatment.

Kerala officials have stated that there is no need to worry about the situation and that due to the preventive measures taken by the government, there are less chances of the disease spreading from wild animals to livestock or humans.

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