Health scare as anthrax may spread across the region

By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone – The Southern African region has been warned to brace itself for the spread of anthrax which has killed more than 100 hippos in Namibia.

The disease has already spread to Botswana through the Okavango River and has already claimed the lives of three hippos.

The Director of Department of Veterinary Service Dr Letshwenyo Modisa said his department and other stakeholders were monitoring the situation.

Speaking during a live broadcast on Botswana Television, Modisa said they had removed more than eight dead carcases of hippos from the Okavango River. He said the carcasses of dead hippos killed by anthrax were spilling into the country from Namibia through the Okavango River.

The river, which flows in the northern part of the country, is shared between Botswana, Namibia and Angola.

Anthrax is usually spread in the form of a spore, which is a dormant form that certain bacteria take when they have no food supply.

According to Modisa, the infection occurs when the bacteria enters a cut or scratch in the skin through inhalation.

But he allayed fears that crocodiles and other wild animals which feed on the infected carcass are immune from infection adding that they help in mitigating the spread of the disease by feeding on the carcasses.

As the number of hippos which died of suspected anthrax from neighbouring Namibia rises, Botswana has confirmed that at least three hippos have died in the country.

The Director of Wildlife and National Parks, Otisitswe Tiroyamodimo, said while the death toll may rise in the near future, a considerable number of dead hippos came floating in the Okavango River at Mohembo in northern Botswana from Namibia.

He said they are working around the clock to remove the dead hippos from the river to curb further spread.

“A significant number of dead hippo carcasses are floating in the river from Namibia into Botswana. The public is warned not to touch any carcass found along the river or anywhere else. Eating meat of these animals will be very dangerous as anthrax is suspected to be causing the mortalities,” he said.

He said all dead animal sightings, be it in the water, river or land, must be reported to the nearest Department of Wildlife and National Parks office, police station or veterinary office.

Reports indicate that dozens of the lifeless hippos were seen at the Bwabwata National Park in the north-east of Namibia amid reports that buffaloes were also dying from the same disease.

For her part, the Ministry of Health and Wellness’s permanent secretary Shenaaz El-Halabi said though the incident has occurred in northern Botswana, all public health facilities in the country are ready to provide all the necessary health services for the management of anthrax.

She warned that it was dangerous and risky to touch, skin, cut, handle or eat hippo meat or it’s by products.

Reports indicate that wild animal anthrax is a natural occurrence in many areas in southern Africa. Outbreaks of anthrax in hippos are common across the region. In dry seasons, there is concentration of both animals and anthrax spores in the reduced volumes of water, and the infection is able to spread rapidly among the hippos.

Tourists and others are not at risk if they avoid direct contact with the dead hippos.

New sightings of hippo carcasses should be reported to game reserve officials.

October 2017
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