Focus now shifts to anthrax in Meru disease outbreak

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Doctors in Meru have ruled out insect bites as the cause of a disease outbreak that has left two people dead and 17 others undergoing treatment as focus now shifts to anthrax.

There were fears among locals that the disease whose symptoms include lesions that turn into wounds is caused by bites from mysterious insects.

But Meru County Health Executive Meshack Mutuma, who led a team of medics including disease surveillance officers, veterinary doctors and health officers as well as police officers in addressing journalists, said the situation has been contained.

Dr Geoffrey Koome, a medical officer from Tigania East Sub-County, said while results for tests sent to the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) are not yet out, they are convinced that the patients are suffering from cutaneous anthrax.

Tigania East disease surveillance officer Stephen Mutua said most patients have since admitted to eating meat from dead cattle.

Anthrax is a zoonotic disease (affecting both humans and animals) caused by a bacteria known as Bacillus Anthracis, spread by eating or coming into contact with contaminated carcasses.

The disease presents itself through the skin (cutaneous anthrax) as well as the stomach and mouth (gastrointestinal anthrax).

“Initially, we thought the condition was caused by an insect based on accounts by the patients and locals. But after further investigations, people admitted to have consumed meat from a cow that had died. We are also engaging veterinary officers to contain the disease and following our interventions, the cases have declined,” Mr Mutua said.

Dr Koome said five patients are currently admitted to various hospitals across the county while the rest have been treated and discharged.

“Those affected suspected insect bites because they felt itchy before developing blisters. But what we have are clinical presentations of cutaneous anthrax. The patients are responding well to treatment as we await confirmatory tests from Kemri,” Dr Koome said.

Mr Mutuma, the Health executive, said the cutaneous type of anthrax is new in the county, leading to myths about its cause.

“In Meru, the most common type of anthrax is the one affecting the stomach. We urge the public to be calm and all those who consumed the infected meat should seek medical attention. Our health facilities are ready to handle the situation,” Mr Mutuma said.

Some of the patients who spoke to the Nation said they ate meat from dead cattle two weeks ago and developed blisters within 24 hours.

Areas affected by the outbreak include Luthii, Mutunduru, Limbariki, Ntirutu and Laikumukumu in Tigania East.

Cutaneous anthrax is transmitted through a cut when a person comes into contact with infected animals or contaminated products.

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