The Ministry of Health (MoH) has confirmed that about 22 hippopotamuses that were found floating on the Shire River in Liwonde in October died due to anthrax.
This follows tests conducted at the Central Veterinary Laboratory, instituted by MoH, whose results indicated that there was Bacillus Anthracis in the hippos’ system, a virus that causes anthrax.
The World health Organisation (WHO) describes anthrax as a disease of herbivorous animals that causes severe infection in humans as a result of contact with contaminated products or animals.
But in a written response on Saturday, MoH spokesperson Joshua Malango said WHO and the United States (US) Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are collaborating with MoH to ensure there is no further spread of the disease.
He said: “Deaths of wild animals is a Department of Wildlife issue but all sectors are now working together under the one health approach to control the disease. So yes, the animal deaths are from anthrax. We have the support from the WHO and the US CDC.”
Asked about the hippo deaths on Friday, director of National Parks and Wildlife Brighton Kumchedwa asked for more time to get details as he had been away in Egypt.
But at a press briefing on November 22 in Lilongwe, Kumchedwa said the department suspected climatic factors as one of the major factors causing the deaths.
Following the hippo deaths, the Department of Animal Health and Livestock informed MoH, through the Public Health Initiative of Malawi, which then collected samples and sent them to the Central Veterinary Laboratory.
But asked on the threat anthrax poses to human life, a veterinary surgeon and health officer from the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Joseph Nkhoma said: “It is true the disease has been confirmed. There have been a series of technical meetings on the same led by higher authorities. There will be a press conference by the ministries where all issues will be clarified.”.
The hippos have been dying in the upper side of the Shire River all the way to Liwonde Barrage. They started dying mid-September but the first carcasses were seen floating on October 10.
According to WHO, anthrax is transmitted to people who come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products and contact with anthrax can cause severe illness in both humans and animals.
However, anthrax is not contagious as it does not get transmitted like colds and flu.