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‘New MoEF guidelines for elephant deaths from anthrax’

  • Category
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    28th Jan, 2020

The Indian government’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has come out with a standard operating procedure (SOP) to handle elephant deaths caused or suspected to have been caused, by anthrax.

Context

The Indian government’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has come out with a standard operating procedure (SOP) to handle elephant deaths caused or suspected to have been caused, by anthrax.

What is Anthrax?

  • Anthrax is an “acute widespread infectious disease” caused by gram-positive, rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis.
  • It can be found naturally in soil. Animals can become infected when they come in contact with contaminated soil, plants, or water.
  • Animals like goats, horses, pigs may get the infection as well and because it is a zoonotic disease, humans can get the infection through infected cattle.
  • The disease is found in all parts of the world and, in India, it occurs countrywide. Some districts are even considered as anthrax districts (anthrax belts).
  • It is usually foundin animals in southern Indian states and is less frequent to absent in the northern Indian States.
  • In the past years, the anthrax cases have been reported from Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Karnataka. 
  • Regarding susceptibility, no mammals have absolute natural immunity against anthrax but the most susceptible animals are cattle and sheep, followed by horse and pig.
  • The disease has also been reported amongst camels and elephants in the country. 

Types of Anthrax:

  • Cutaneous, or skin, anthrax: It is the most common form. It is usually contracted when a person with a break in their skin, such as a cut or abrasion, comes into direct contact with anthrax spores.
  • Gastrointestinal anthrax: It is caught from eating meat from an infected animal. It causes initial symptoms similar to food poisoning but these can worsen to produce severe abdominal pain, vomiting of blood and severe diarrhoea.
  • Inhalation or pulmonary anthrax: It is the most severe form of human anthrax. Though the rarest, it is the form of human anthrax causing the most current concern. It is caused when a person is directly exposed to a large number of anthrax spores suspended in the air and breathes them in.

Key-highlights of the guidelines:

  • Latest guidelines released by the environment ministry however, advise against burying of carcass suspected with anthrax, an infectious disease found primarily in animals. 
  • The SOP also lays down rules for the constitution of a team to oversee assessment and disposal of elephant carcasses suspected to be infected with anthrax.
  • The SOP called for the complete burning of carcasses of animals suspected of dying due to anthrax and complete sanitisation of the area to prevent its further spread.
  • The SOP, aimed at preventing an outbreak of the infection among captive or wild elephants and other wildlife, cautioned that while disposing of the carcasses of animals in all anthrax/suspected anthrax cases, the “carcass should be burnt completely and under no circumstance be buried” to prevent further spread of the disease.
  • The overall authority responsible at the state level under the SOP’s provisions will be the chief wildlife warden, in accordance with the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • The procedure will also have steps to assess whether the elephant died due to anthrax and the collection of biological samples. A map of anthrax hotspots is to be created as well.
  • Recently, a four-year-old elephant suspected to have died due to anthrax was found in Sambalpur in Odisha.
  • The population of the elephant, India’s national heritage animal, as per the last elephant estimation in 2017, is 29,964.

Why Anthrax is dangerous?

  • Anthrax outbreak is a particularly dangerous disease because it can quickly spread to other animals.
  • It is an effective agent for a bioterrorist attack as it:
    • is easily found in nature
    • can be produced in a lab
    • can last for a long time without stringent storage conditions.
    • can be easily released
  • Anthrax spores are microscopic. They might not be noticeable by taste, smell, or sight.
  • Infected animals shed the bacilli in terminal haemorrhage or spilt blood at death. Anthrax spores can persist in soil for many years.

How does Government deal with such diseases?

  • The central government’s department of animal husbandry and dairying implementsa centrally sponsored scheme ‘Livestock Health & Disease Control (LH&DC)’ to focus on controlling and containment of economically important animal diseases.
  • Under this scheme, vaccination is carried out for control of diseases like anthrax as well as Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR), Brucellosis, Hemorrhagic Septicemia (HS), Black Quarter (BQ), Classical Swine Fever, Ranikhet disease, etc.

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