According to media reports, Lesotho’s minister of health recently confirmed the outbreak of anthrax in the country. The outbreak was first identified in Maseru, the capital city of Lesotho, and a 10km radius has since been quarantined.

People and cattle infected

The local Post newspaper in Lesotho reported that over 50 people were taken ill after consuming meat laced with anthrax. At the time of the report, more than 20 cattle had already succumbed.

A rapid response team has since responded to the outbreak. The team was comprised of experts from the Disease Control Unit, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and epidemiologists who swiftly moved to contain the disease.

“Our main focus is treating those who ate the infected animals and how to properly bury the carcasses,” said minister of agriculture, Mahala Molapo. “We are also testing water sources in the area.”

According to a report by SABC News, the district administrator of Maseru, Mpane Nthunya, said they would start vaccination campaigns shortly.

Animal movement restricted

So far three zones have been quarantined. The areas affected are Ladybrand, Maseru Zone, Mafeteng as well as Zastron and Wepener, Maputsoe, Botha Bothet andThabo Mofutsanyane.

“Those are the three zones that we have; we have also communicated with each one of them. They are also taking steps so that there is no movement of animals and there is no trade of any kind,” said the health minister.

Animal movement between the Free State in South Africa and Lesotho will also be restricted. The country’s export of animal products such as skins and meat has also been banned until the crisis is addressed.

What is anthrax?

Anthrax is a highly contagious and infectious soil-borne disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a relatively large spore-forming bacteria that can infect mammals. It is a disease that primarily affects herbivores, particularly beef cattle. Infections are rare in humans.  

According Dr Relebohile Lepheana, a district veterinary officer, anthrax is a notifiable zoonosis which affects all warm blooded animals. It is mainly a disease of herbivores such as cattle, sheep and goats. The fact that it is a zoonosis means that it can be transmitted to humans during the handling of contaminated animals or animal carcasses.

Exercise caution

Farmers from Ha-Tseka have been warned not to take their products to a Maseru trade fair and communities are urged to be cautious when consuming meat, especially if the cattle died due to unknown circumstances.

In an interview with Dr Faffa Malan of RuVASA at the Royal Show in KwaZulu-Natal, he confirmed the recent outbreak and emphasised the importance of vaccination to protect livestock against diseases such as anthrax. Watch the video below. – Michelle Verster, AgriOrbit