Sierra Leone has reported its first anthrax outbreak in 28 years. More than 200 livestock have died in the Northwest Region since the Ministries of Health and Agriculture officially announced the outbreak.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Ambassador Abu Bakarr Karim, made the announcement at a press briefing on Monday.
Officials say it followed reports of animals dying in Port Loko District from where samples were collected and tested and the results came back positive for anthrax.
“Government is evaluating its options to institute restrictions on the production, processing and marketing of livestock and livestock products, mainly cattle, sheep and goat,” a joint statement from the Ministries of Agriculture and Health states.
Meanwhile, the public is urged to report any cases of sick animals in their community and to refrain from administering treatment on their own without consulting experts.
The Ministry of Agriculture states that anthrax falls in the category of re-emerging zoonotic diseases in Sierra Leone. The last outbreak was in 1994.
Anthrax exists in the form of spores, which experts say can survive for decades in the soil until they are contracted by the right host, usually animals that either ingest them while grazing or inhale them through infested dust.
It is a serious infectious disease caused by a bacterium known as bacillus anthracic. The disease is however treatable.
Officials told journalists that no human case has been recorded so far in the Sierra Leonean outbreak, adding that they were considering instituting measures to prevent spread of the disease.
Ruminant animals infected by anthrax die showing no sign of illness. Humans become infected through eating meat of infected animals or handling of products of infected animals. They can also get it by inhaling airborne anthrax spores.
One of the best options is animal vaccination, said Minister Karim.
The Ministry has ordered all cattle ranches and sheep and goat farms in the affected areas to institute quarantine restrictions until the outbreak is under control.
Other measures include intensified surveillance and management of anthrax cases both in humans and animals, as well as active social mobilisation and sensitisation of communities on anthrax prevention and control.
Movement of livestock and their products from the affected areas is also prohibited.