A deadly outbreak of anthrax has been reported in the north of Zimbabwe, with three people and more than 160 cattle already dead.
British charity Save the Children says that, coming on top of the ongoing cholera epidemic and the desperate food shortage, the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe has reached unprecedented proportions.
“Many families in the Zambezi valley are so hungry that they are taking meat from the carcasses of their dead animals, even if they know it’s diseased, and are feeding it to their children,” said Save the Children’s country director, Rachel Pounds. “If the animal has been poisoned by anthrax, those children could die.”
A quarantine zone has been declared in the affected areas of Matebeleland North. But traders have been seen taking potentially infected carcasses out of the restricted zones to trade in the Victoria Falls region. This risks the disease spreading across Zimbabwe and into Zambia.
Zimbabwe has had problems with Anthrax in the past, having experienced the worst-ever recorded outbreak of the disease in 1979/80, at the time of its civil war. More than 10,000 human cases were recorded and 182 human deaths. Some have suggested, but not proved, that biological warfare was involved.
Little anthrax vaccination has taken place in Zimbabwe during the past five years and the strain now found in the Zambezi valley has been identified as particularly virulent.
Anthrax can kill when infected meat is touched or eaten, or when infected spores are inhaled.
Save the Children has launched a big appeal for funds, which will be used to help vaccinate cattle and educate people about the dangers of anthrax. For more information and to donate, click here