Against the backdrop of the outbreak of anthrax disease in two states of the country, the first in Niger State in July, followed by Lagos, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) on Thursday called on the Federal Government to embark on a nationwide vaccination of livestock against the disease.

The association, in a statement by its National President, Baba Othman-Ngelzarma, said although it was reported in only two states, the anthrax disease could easily spread to other states.

“Anthrax being a zoonotic disease and a national security matter due to its nature of spread and mortality must be treated with all the urgency it deserves,” Othman-Ngelzarma said.

Anthrax, an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, is known to affect domestic and wild animals and can also infect human beings. Humans become sick with the disease by handling animal products such as wool, hide or bone from animals infected with the anthrax bacterium.

For a disease that can be contracted when a person consumes the meat of an anthrax-infected animal, when bacteria spores enter the body through a cut or scrape on the skin, or when it is inhaled into the human respiratory tract, MACBAN’s call cannot be swept away.

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Indeed, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pulmonary anthrax cases are at risk of respiratory collapse and suffer mortality rate as high as 92 percent, while between 20 and 60 percent of all gastrointestinal-anthrax cases result in death.

Nigeria, especially the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, deserves commendation for the early detection of the anthrax outbreak and for conducting risk-based vaccination in the affected areas.

We, however, agree with MACBAN that the measures taken so far are hardly enough, in a country believed to have more than 20 million cattle and 75 million sheep and goats, with many other animals coming in from neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger, Ghana, Cameroon and Benin Republic.

We recall, sadly, that the anthrax scare that hit the United States in September 2001, after letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and politicians, left five dead and infected 17 others. Also, an outbreak of gastrointestinal and skin anthrax in a village in Jharkhand, India, in October 2014 reportedly killed seven people. Similarly, nearly 100 people from nomadic communities in northern Siberia were hospitalised with the disease in July 2016.

We reckon that taking stringent measures to check the spread of the anthrax disease will not only safeguard the livelihood of livestock owners, it will also ensure the health and safety of humans who may be exposed to the disease given the various modes of transmission. Nigerians are already bent under the weight of economic hardship, they can do without the additional burden of anthrax disease.