No let-up in anthrax scare in Agency areas: Bacteria stays in the soil for 50-60 years

VISAKHAPATNAM: Cases of cutaneous (skin-related) anthrax are reported every year from Vizag Agency areas, especially from Araku, Dumbriguda, Hukumpeta and Chintapalle mandals. This year too, there was no exception.
Though anthrax is not life-threatening and can be treated with antibiotics, sporadic cases are reported at primary and community health centres. Patients suffering from skin anthrax usually suffer from eruptions or ulcers and blackish discolouration of the skin, while some develop big black patches on different parts of the body, especially on the limbs. The tendency of the anthrax bacteria is it stays in the soil for long, making the tribals prone to such cases.

Dr Kalyan Prasad, medical officer for Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) from the district medical and health office (DMHO), stated, “Anthrax is a bacterial disease caused by bacillus bacteria, and usually spreads through consumption of meat of infected cattle – goat, sheep, cows, buffaloes. Eating uncooked or poorly cooked meat of infected cattle (who ingest the bacterial spores during grazing) is said to cause anthrax. Also, if there is any abrasion or cut on the skin and this part comes in contact with the flesh of the infected animal while handling it, human beings too get infected by cutaneous anthrax. Anthrax may occur in three forms – skin, pulmonary and intestinal. The commonest form of anthrax reported in Agency areas is cutaneous (skin) anthrax. The disease is not life-threatening and treatment with antibiotics usually cures the person within a week or so.”

“Accordingly, around 10,000 animals would be vaccinated in the vulnerable villages of Araku and Chintapalle mandals,” said Dr Kalyan Prasad, medical officer for Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) while in-charge district medical and health officer (DMHO) Dr R Ramesh said, “We are keeping a tab on the affected villages and veterinary teams have been sent there. No fresh cases have been reported after the five infected have been admitted to KGH.”

The vaccination needs to be fool-proof and not should not be one-time affair. “Every year vaccination of each cattle is needed till not even a single case of anthrax is reported from the particular area. The vaccination of the animal should ideally start when it reaches one year of age,” said Dr S Jayaram, veterinary doctor with GVMC.
However, the difficulty with anthrax bacteria is that their spores can stay in the soil for 50-60 years or more. So, when the grazing cattle eat the grass, they may swallow the spores and get infected. Also, if any wounds or abrasion in their mouth or nose comes in contact with the spores, they may get affected by anthrax bacteria. And when human beings consume that cattle without proper cooking or handles those infected animals, the spores may enter their body through cuts in the skin or through inhaling. Depending on the entry of the spores, anthrax may be cutaneous (skin), intestinal or digestive or pulmonary, aver doctors.
Thus, it becomes a challenge to make a particular village where already anthrax cases have been reported to be the anthrax-bacteria free. The Agency areas are anthrax-endemic regions and cutaneous anthrax cases recur here.
“Further, the problem with the tribal villagers is that despite cautioning them about the causes of anthrax, they often consume the cattle in their traditional way without properly cooking, even partially cooked and putrefied and sometimes they cut the animal. Since, cutaneous anthrax is not fatal, they do not take the disease seriously unless it gets serious and they are forced to get admitted in hospitals and take antibiotics,” said Dr P V Sudhakar, principal of Andhra Medical College, and added that samples from the patients have been sent to the microbiology department for confirmatory testing though clinical examination point it to be a case of cutaneous anthrax.