BANGLADESH: Anthrax threat to livelihoods, human health
Livestock is big business in Bangladesh
DHAKA, 6 June 2011 (IRIN) - Health and livestock officials in Bangladesh have expressed concern over a fresh outbreak of human anthrax in two northwestern districts, but some believe a bigger threat is to livelihoods.
“At this stage, people are panicking more about losing their cattle than getting anthrax, as it can be treated easily in humans if diagnosed quickly. The real danger is that tens of thousands of people are at risk of losing their livelihoods, as meat sales will drastically decline due to a lack of consumer confidence,” said Nazim Uddin Khan, a surgeon in Sirajganj District, which has seen the highest number of human anthrax cases.
Sirajganj District, about 100km from Dhaka, is a hub of the nation’s livestock export and import industry due to its proximity to the Indian border.
Over the past week, 16 new human cases were reported in Pabna and Sirajganj districts - both in the northwest - bringing the total number of cases to 60 since the end of April, government sources reported on 6 June.
Of these 60 cases, 48 occurred in Sirajganj, and Khan expected there would be more.
This is the second outbreak of human anthrax in recent times; the first was detected in Sirajganj on 18 August 2010
, and within a month, 495 people contracted the disease.
No deaths have been reported so far, as cutaneous (skin) anthrax - which produces boil-like lesions and ulcers on the skin - is rarely fatal in humans if treated early with antibiotics, says the Federation of American Scientists
According to the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR)
, cutaneous anthrax accounts for about 95 percent of all human infections.
Vaccination of livestock
An IEDCR fact sheet
says “vaccination of livestock is the most efficient way of preventing this disease.”
But with over 50 million livestock, according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates, this could prove impossible, so herds are being targeted in specific areas.
“Animals in or around the affected areas are our priority,” said Mat Yamage, chief technical adviser at FAO.
Since the beginning of 2011, FAO and the Livestock Ministry have vaccinated 194,600 animals in three districts. Last year, nearly three million animals were vaccinated.
Khan was optimistic the disease would be better contained this year given the Department of Livestock’s efforts to raise farmer awareness - particularly about how to dispose of infected animal corpses.
Others believe more needs to be done: “More campaigning to raise awareness is still needed, because sick animals are still being slaughtered for consumption,” said FAO’s Yamage.
According to the government, around 75 percent of Bangladesh’s 160 million inhabitants rely on livestock to some degree for their livelihood.