Anthrax Fears for NTT families

KUPANG, East Nusa Tenggara ~ Health officials are monitoring around 90 families in two East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) villages for signs of anthrax, which has already killed five people, an official said.

The deaths forced the authorities to seal off the villages on Sumba island on Saturday and begin mass vaccination of livestock in the area, veterinary official Maria Geong said.

“At least 90 families in the two isolated villages are suspected of having been contaminated by the anthrax bacteria,” Geong said.

All members of the families had eaten parts of cows and water buffalo believed to have been infected, she said.

She said they had been asked not to leave their villages until further notice. Geong did not say how many family members in total the emergency action affected.

About 2,000 people live in the two villages, which will be sealed off for a month to stop more people from being infected.

Apart from killing five residents, the disease has forced 12 others to undergo intensive treatment after showing symptoms, Geong said.

Anthrax is an acute infection that usually only afflicts livestock but can be transmitted to humans who handle or eat affected animals.

Geong said a 60-strong team was currently vaccinating 50,000 cows, buffalo, goats and pigs in the area.

Dead and infected animals have already been burnt but any remnants of their flesh and bones were now being collected to prevent a further spread of the disease.

The bacteria can survive for more than 60 years, including buried under five centimeters of soil.

Sumba island is in East Nusa Tenggara province, where some 40 people have died from anthrax since 1994, Geong said.

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