Despite anthrax onslaught, experts allay fears over meat consumption |By Gbenga Akinfenwa Nigeria

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A veterinary Doctor administers anti-anthrax vaccine on cows.

With the continued spread of the viral anthrax disease across states of the federation, meat lovers across the country may do well to be careful with its consumption.

Following the confirmation of the outbreak in Lagos, the state became the third state, after Niger and Plateau, where the outbreak was previously recorded according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Anthrax is a severe disease caused by the bacteria – Bacillus anthracis. It can affect both humans and animals, including wild animals and livestock such as cows, pigs, camels, sheep, goats and others.

The bacteria, which exist as spores, can be found in the soil, wool, or hair of infected animals. Anthrax spores are resistant to extreme conditions and can survive in the soil or environment for decades, making controlling or eradicating the disease very difficult.
The disease, previously recorded in neighbouring countries in the West African sub-region – northern Ghana bordering Burkina Faso and Togo, found its way into the country with the first outbreak recorded in a farm in Niger State.

Anthrax is not contagious – an infected person cannot pass it to others like a cold or flu. However, people can get sick with anthrax if they come into contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products, and spores get cuts or scrapes on the person’s skin.

Eating raw or undercooked meat from infected animal or drinking contaminated water can cause the disease. Anthrax can spread through the air, where the spores are inhaled, which can happen in places like slaughterhouses and tanneries.
While announcing the outbreak in Lagos, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Mrs Olatokunbo Emokpae, revealed that six of the infected animals have been confiscated, burnt, and buried, adding that the cases were discovered during animal surveillance on Lagos Island and the Agege area of the state.
“Human and animal surveillance activities have been stepped up, and free vaccination activities and monitoring have also been intensified. Animal monitoring through intensive surveillance will be implemented. All animal owners should take advantage of the free, ongoing vaccination programme,” she said.
Though no case of human infection has either been identified or reported since the discovery of the disease in these states, palpable fear has gripped meat lovers, as a good number of them have abandoned consumption of meat for now, to avert any risk.
Sources told The Guardian that a good number of the infected-animals might have found their way into cattle and livestock markets across the country undetected, hence the need for caution on meat consumption, especially from unknown sources.
A viral video on the social media, where about six anthrax-infected dead cows were burnt in a place called Jungle in Elepe, Ikorodu with a voice-over warning Nigerians to steer clear of meat consumption, has sent fear down the spine of many Nigerians.
Based on investigations, patronage in abattoirs and slaughterhouses, especially in Lagos, has dropped drastically as more people continue to stop meat consumption for now. Even food sellers and restaurants are recording low meat sales, as many are wary of contacting the disease.

Despite these warnings, some Nigerians are still consuming meat; a development that has posed a question on how safe meat consumption is at this period?
A former Chairman, Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association of Nigeria (NVMA), Lagos state Chapter and President Ibadan faculty of veterinary medicine alumni association worldwide, Dr. Joseph Olufemi Aroso, allayed the fears of Nigerians, saying meat is safe to eat, provided it is bought but from government-controlled abattoirs, where pre and post mortem inspections are carried out.
“We should be careful of where we buy our meat. It is safe to buy meat in government-controlled abattoirs because meat inspection will be done there, both pre and post mortem inspections and they’ll make sure that meats going to the public are wholesome.”
Contrary to belief in some sections that the skin of infected animals (ponmo), should not be consumed, he said consumption of any part of an infected animal is risky, “not only the flesh, it is the whole body. Not only the ponmo, because when it is infected, it is the whole body that is infected. No one knows the gravity of infection of the internal organs. So, what is recommended for an infected animal is to be buried deep down. It means you are condemning the entire animal, not only the skin.”
An animal scientist, Prof. Adetunji Iyiola-Tunji of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Kaduna State, also confirmed that human beings are safe to consume meat now, but must ensure that the meat is not from infected animals.
“If any cow is infected by anthrax disease, human beings are not supposed to have even contact with such animal. The principal means of disposal is by burying the animal – deep burying into the ground with lime covering the animal. In fact, anthrax is a dangerous disease to the extent that if human beings come in contact with the bones of an affected animal, such a person can still contact the disease.

“As it has entered Lagos now, care must be taken to be sure those animals that are being slaughtered at our abattoirs are animals that are not affected by anthrax. It is a terrible zoonotic disease that can affect human beings,” he said.
The Don advised meat lovers to feel free to buy their meats, but warned that they should get it from good sources. “They should not exercise fear in consuming meat. The issue is now with the abattoirs, they must be sure that the animals they are pushing out to the masses are clean animals,” he added.
To curb the spread of the disease, the animal scientist advised that, “for anthrax as a viral disease, the most important thing is prevention. Once the disease has entered into the fold of animals, there may not be any cure. Once it has incubated and started spreading, the best thing to do is to vaccinate the animals before they get to the fold.”