Human anthrax cases hit cattle sales, livelihoods

A cattle vender resting in Puthia, Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Sales of livestock have dropped following an anthrax outbreak
(Jessica Mudditt/IRIN)

Cattle and livestock sales in Bangladesh have plummeted following a major outbreak of human anthrax. Nearly 500 people have caught the disease, which is not lethal if treated promptly.

At the Gabtali cattle market, one of Dhaka’s largest, livestock trader Najrul Mohajon said sales are just a tenth of what they should be at this celebratory time - Eid - though the capital has yet to report any cases.

As of 13 September, 495 human anthrax cases had been reported since 18 August, with 16 cases in the last 72 hours alone, according to Bangladesh’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR). within the Ministry of Health.

Anthrax primarily affects livestock but can occasionally spread to humans, affecting either the skin, intestines, or lungs. In humans, the infection can often be treated, but it is almost always fatal in animals, say health experts.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), humans generally acquire the disease directly or indirectly from infected animals, or occupational exposure to infected or contaminated animal products.

There are no documented cases of person to person transmission, the world health body says.

Around 75 percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million inhabitants rely on livestock to some degree for their livelihood, the government says.

To date, only cutaneous (skin) anthrax, which produces boil-like lesions and ulcers on the skin but is rarely fatal if treated, has been detected in humans.

In the northern district of Siraganj, some 100km from Dhaka, 206 cases have been detected, and most other cases have occurred in northern Bangladesh, though infections have also been found in the west and southwest. Nine of the country’s 64 districts have confirmed human and animal cases, including Pabna, Sirajganj, Kushtia, Tangail, Meherpur, Manikganj, Shatkhira, Lalmonirhat, and Rajshahi, IEDCR said.

“This is not the first time that anthrax has been detected in cattle in Bangladesh, but unfortunately this year we have found it in humans,” Livestock Department Deputy Director Mosaddek Hossain, within the Ministry of Fisheries & Livestock, told IRIN.

On 5 September, Minister for Fisheries and Livestock Abdul Latif Biswas placed his department on red alert, cancelling all holidays and sending emergency veterinary teams to anthrax checkpoints in cattle markets around the country.

Animals vaccinated

Current supplies of the livestock anthrax vaccine are sufficient, the government said, which has also launched a massive public awareness campaign to warn people against consuming infected beef and prevent cattle traders from inadvertently spreading the disease when disposing of infected animals.

Mat Yamage, chief technical adviser at the Food and Agriculture Organization, told IRIN 270,000 animals have already received the vaccine, and work is under way to administer a further 500,000 vaccinations in affected areas.

“Due to the specific conditions existing in Bangladesh, it is neither easy nor practical to dispose of affected animals using incinerators, which is the safest way to contain the disease. So we are teaching cattle owners to bury the dead animals very deeply underground and to isolate any animals suspected of having anthrax. We are watching things very carefully because we have found that some farmers are disposing of animals in rivers and lakes, which is very risky,” he said.

Meanwhile, for those whose livelihoods depend on livestock, the fallout remains unclear.

“Business is down and I’m tense,” said Mohammad Imran, who has worked at the Gabtali market for more than a decade. “How am I going to feed my eight family members?”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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