Anthrax Outbreak in Bangladesh Hits 254

The anthrax outbreak in Bangladesh is spreading at an alarming rate as 254 people have been diagnosed to have contracted the anthrax bacterium (Bacillus anthracis), according to the Bangladesh Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), responsible for monitoring the disease under the nation’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, as of September 2, 2010.

The number is increasing rapidly since its first reported case tentatively around August 19 of this year in Shahjadpur and adjoining upazilas of Sirajganj. The latest cutaneous anthrax outbreak, the eight of the year, is clearly posing to be the most lethal outbreak in the last 12 months. 99 people, along with several animals, were affected during the seven earlier outbreaks.

According to the IEDCR sources, from the 254 infected, 21 patients are from Daulatpur upazila of Kushtia district, 14 from Gatail upazila of Tangail district; one from Bera, 27 from Satia and 17 from the Faridpur upazilas of Pabna district; 53 from Shahzadpur, 52 from Belkuchi and 69 from Kamarkhand upazilas of Sirajganj district.

Although the government authorities are claiming that there is nothing to fear as immediate treatments can cure patients easily, the endemic is rapidly spreading due to the inadequate supply of vaccination and the lack of awareness.

Patients from Sirajganj district had claimed that the disease could have broken out from the beef which they had purchased, at a lower price than usual, from the kitchen markets in the area on July 27. “A few days after having the meat, most of us began to feel unwell while some spotted small spots on different parts of the body,” said Mujibur Rahman, a patient and resident of Chithulia village of Shahjadpur upazila in Sirajganj. Soon the small lesions grew in size turning into ulcers on the skin.

As it looks, Mujiburs’ were not the only family who purchased the beef on that day as the highest number of patients, standing at 174, is currently hailing from the Sirajganj district.

The Sirajganj district livestock office recently informed some dailies of Bangladesh that the recent outbreak was caused after the villagers ate tainted beef and had processed and or come into contact with the meat, bones, hair and hides of anthrax-infected cows on or after July 29. According to the office, 21 cows have already been killed by anthrax while seven in the area were slaughtered, whose meat was later sold to the locals in the area.

“This is the eighth anthrax outbreak of the year and there is absolutely nothing to worry about as the chances of mortality are extremely low after contracting the disease,” said Mahmudur Rahman, chief of Bangladesh IEDCR.

“All kinds of domestic animals including cows, goats, sheep, buffaloes and more have the chance of contracting the disease and transmitting it to humans. The outbreak can occur at any time as the bacterium can survive in the soil for over 30 to 40 years. As animals are infected upon inhaling it, the parts of Bangladesh like Pabna, Sirajganj, Tangail and Kushtia, with the most animal population, are naturally the ‘endemic areas’,” said Professor Abu Hadi Noor Ali Khan, chairman of the veterinary department, Bangladesh Agriculture University and head of the four-member expert team which had visited the anthrax-affected villages, recently.

Hadi, however, admitted that the outbreak may increase due to the lack of awareness and inadequate supplies of vaccines. “Only the government produces the vaccine for anthrax, whose production meets about five percent of what is needed in the country,” said Hadi to a correspondent of the daily New Age in Bangladesh recently.

“As there is a shortage of manpower, we are finding it tough to vaccinate all the animals. Although we have tried to initiate awareness programs to ensure that the disease can be contained, villagers, who are yet to be within our reach, are still slaughtering their affected cows while dumping the bones and sometimes, even carcasses of the animals, in the open fields and in the ponds. This will aggravate the situation,” said a district livestock officer of Sirajganj.

There is a general fear that the outbreak may reach other parts of Bangladesh within the next two months prior to Eid-ul-Azha, the Muslim festival when sacrificial animals are bought and sold in large quantities. The crisis may take a serious turn also in Bangladesh in case there is a flood this year.