The ongoing anthrax outbreak in the Republic of Zambia has recently become a multi-country concern.
The World Health Organization (WHO today announced that as of November 20, 2023, 684 suspected human cases, including four deaths, have been reported in 2023.
This unprecedented anthrax outbreak marks the first significant occurrence spanning nine out of 10 country provinces. The last large-scale outbreak reported in Zambia occurred in 2011, with 511 suspected cases, wrote the WHO on December 8, 2023.
The risk of the outbreak spreading within Zambia is assessed to be high, and at the regional level is also considered high due to the frequent movement of both animals and people between Zambia and its neighboring countries, such as Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
International travelers to anthrax-endemic countries should be aware of the current health risk, says the WHO. In 2021, about 554,000 tourists visited Zambia, formerly known as Northern Rhodesia, reported WorldData.
However, the WHO advises against implementing travel or trade restrictions with Zambia based on the current information on this event.
In addition to anthrax, the U.S. CDC has included Zambia in Travel Health Advisories in 2023 regarding measles and polio.
Humans usually acquire the infection after exposure to infected animals, carcasses, or animal products. More than 95% of human anthrax cases take the cutaneous form and result from handling infected carcasses or hides, hair, meat, or bones from such carcasses.
Anthrax is a zoonotic disease caused by Bacillus anthracis that typically affects ruminants (cows, sheep, and goats). The bacteria produce highly potent toxins responsible for the symptoms, causing a high lethality rate in the pulmonary form.
Humans can develop the disease from infected animals or through contaminated animal products. Hospitalization is required for all human cases identified. Vaccines are available for livestock.
However, humans have access to a limited supply.
From a prevention vaccination perspective, Emergent BioSolutions Inc. recently announced that the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority awarded a $75 million contract option to acquire the newly licensed anthrax vaccine CYFENDUS™.
Deliveries of the two-dose vaccine are expected to begin in the U.S. in 2023 and be completed in the late first quarter of 2024. These vaccines are unavailable to the general public.