Rise In Zoonotic Diseases Calls For Advanced Early Warning Systems …as animal to human diseases grow

By Catherine Murombedzi

EARLY warning systems usually avert or mitigate the effects of a disaster or a pandemic in striking with the same devastating magnitude that it would have had, had pre disaster responses not been put in place.
In most instances, animal health is ignored, coming secondary to human health.
It should not be. The two have a co-relation.

AMR occurs when germs, diseases, or infections in humans and animals change and become resistant to antimicrobial medicines used for treatment.

The veterinary extension supervisor for Odzi District. Inspectorate Cathrine Sakupwanya, told journalists in Mutare that they were educating farmers. However, some were still using ARVs and steroids to boost production.

“There are farmers who are using ARVs and corticosteroids so that the chickens develop faster with big muscles. Unfortunately, unsuspecting buyers prefer the ‘huge chickens’ as compared to those that have been nurtured in the correct way and have standard weight,” said Sakupwanya.
Contamination with Escherichia coli is highest in poultry with Africa: ranging from 8.9–60% and Asia from 53–93%. With porous border controlls in southern Africa, there is a risk to import E. coli through poultry meat and products in Africa.

A study carried out in Uganda in 2008 showed that people who did not regularly wash their hands before eating harbored bacteria approximately twice as similar genetically to bacteria of their livestock as did people who regularly washed their hands before eating. These results suggest that both rates of human-livestock interactions and patterns of human hygiene affect human-livestock bacterial transmission in this setting. (Source: infectious Diseases of Poverty)

A sneeze in the animal kingdom may signal a sneeze in human beings, too. A sneeze in the animal world may end there without affecting humans, like the bird flu has for decades. Surprisingly, there have been few noted cases of recent cases where bird flu has infected human beings, too. This is being studied.

The strains of bacteria or viruses that are transmitted from animals to humans are called zoonotic diseases.
A healthy environment assures healthy people, which is Eco Health.
Contamination of the environment, be it water or soil, affects flora and fauna, not sparing humans in the process.

In 2020, Elita Chikwati Senior Reporter with The Herald reported that 87 people were hospitalised after eating meat from cattle affected by anthrax.
The disease had claimed about 177 beasts.

“Anthrax is a life-threatening infectious disease caused by bacteria that normally affects animals, especially ruminants such as cattle, but being a bacteria, it is easily treatable with antibiotics if detected in time.
Zimbabwe usually experiences anthrax outbreaks during the rainfall season because rains wash away the top soil and expose spores that can remain dormant in the soil for over 40 years,” Chikwati stated.

Livestock, particularly cattle, take up anthrax bacteria while grazing on contaminated land. People get infected when they handle or eat anthrax-infected meat.
It is for this reason that maintaining a healthy environment gains pace, making the community understand the balance.
#What matters to animals matters to humans.
The coming together of stakeholders to the environment table can see a change in health solutions for both humans and animals. Emerging diseases call for a multi sectorial approach, making the world a global village indeed.

It has been reported that some unscrupulous chicken farmers are giving their livestock anti retroviral therapy (ART) and cotrimoxazole pills to boost immunity and growth, The Zimbabwean reported in 2018.
“Some unscrupulous chicken breeders are giving ART and antibiotics to chicken to boost production,” the paper reported after an investigation in small scale chicken breeders.

Vaccines have been in use for over centuries. The first vaccine was found in 1796. In Zimbabwe, various vaccines for the under’5 year-olds have been popular, with the majority of children saved from fatal diseases like measles, TB, diphtheria, polio and lately, the human papilloma vaccine for girls under the age of 15.
The latest vaccine to be in massive demand globally is the Covid-19 vaccine, which has seen over a dozen vaccines on the market in one year.
The urgency emanated from the emergency that the coronavirus engulfed the world. Access to the vaccine and efficacy is a story for another day.

In a webnair held by
The Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA), Kenya, and speakers highlighted the importance of the media in translating knowledge to action.
The media is an important stakeholder to the multi sectorial approach to achieving One Health.
The correlation of humans and the environment shows that the two need each other.

“Communities require to appreciate that the environment should be harnessed to proportion. If we exploit nature excessively, we upset the balance,” said Dr Delia Randolph, an epidemiologist at The International Livestock Research Institute in Kenya (ILRI).

What affects the animals affects humans. The two need to strike a balance.
In Zimbabwe, rabies is one such disease that is passed from infected animals to people.
With 99% of the rabies emanating from dogs, vaccination of dogs is a priority.

A stitch in time saves nine.
Prevention is always better than cure. Early warning of an outbreak of any disease is vital to have the prevention mechanisms ready and on guard.

The current global virus that started in Wuhan, China, in November 2019 comes to mind.
Despite the early warning of the coronavirus named Covid-19, many countries were caught napping. The virus did not move. Humans moved it. Movement to and from high-risk areas was one prevention measure, which, to a greater extent, averted a worse off scenario. Today, Covid-19 has claimed over 5 million lives globally. There was the false sense of immunity by many Africans, as noted by the myths that the high African temperature above 27% killed the virus, that the virus did not affect dark skinned people, herbs, especially lipia javanica, locally known as zumbani, was touted as a cure. Zumbani eased the chest from tightness but did not treat Covid-19.

All these falsehoods saw many people reporting late at hospitals, the myths required to be dispelled.
Everyone became a citizen journalist and a self-proclaimed virtual medical doctor. Infordemics could have caused loss of lives than the pandemic itself in some instances.

Zimbabwe is on high alert following a recent outbreak of bird flu in the Overberg area, Western Cape, South Africa. Sea birds and poultry have been infected, with a poultry ban affected immediately.

“Poultry import ban from South Africa is now in place, with border surveillance high. There is no report of the high pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in the country. The last reported case was in 2017, and we nipped it in the bud,” said veterinarian Dr Josphat Nyika.

Dr Athman Mwatondo, a veterinarian and epidemiologist with the Ministry of Health, Kenya, speaking during the webnair hosted by MESHA, said it was important that nations budget to have strong surveillance systems in place.

“The Abuja Declaration says that 15% of the national budget must go to health. If this was followed, then surveillance would be strengthened. It would result in effective tools. The sharing of knowledge from the animal sector to the health and vice versa would mitigate prior to an outbreak or in managing one,” he said in the educative webnair.

Zimbabwe has an effective rabies vaccination program in place, though there still is room for
improvement through awareness.

Recently, the Member of Parliament for Buhera South, Hon Joseph Chinotimba, alerted of rabies in the area.

At the time of going to press, the MP had not responded to questions sent to him.

Zimbabwe aims to have zero rabies cases by the year 2030.

“Dog rabies vaccinations have been carried out countrywide very well in the year. Our country is guided by the theme Zero by Thirty for rabies, wherein we don’t want any dog mediated rabies by the year 2030. I’m sure you have heard this before. There is admittedly low turn up for dog rabies vaccination in Buhera. Communities are encouraged to present their dogs for vaccination at their nearest veterinary office. The most widely accessible veterinary office is the dip tank. The communities must bring their dogs for vaccinations,” said the Chief Vet Director, Dr Jairus Machakwa.

With most of the rabies cases noted from dog bites, the department of veterinary services is alert to the problem and runs an annual vaccination drive.

“Whilst on average, 12 dog bite cases are reported per month, there have been no dog rabies cases reported or diagnosed in the period January 2021 to October 2021. Similarly, no human rabies cases were reported in the same period for Buhera, and this information can be confirmed from the health authorities as well,” said Dr Machakwa.

“Vaccinating dogs against rabies is the single most cost-effective and impactful intervention that we know of in the control of human rabies. Look, you vaccinate a dog for free, and you pay US$1 for the certificate. The dog can bite many people, and the cost of treatment is that of treating the wounds only. The cost of not vaccinating a dog is phenomenal. Each person bitten by that dog requires three doses of human antirabies vaccine as post exposure prophylaxis, each dose costing US$40, a total of US$120, and as you know, a rabid dog can bite ten, twenty or fifty people in a fit of rage. So, there is a good opportunity to save lives through dog vaccinations.
By the way, remember that once rabies symptoms show in a person, the person invariably dies. Rabies is fatal all the time. Scaling up rabies vaccinations among dogs is not an option; it is a priority! It is a life saver. Secondly, those persons at high risk of dog bites must be vaccinated. Those include veterinary personnel,” added Dr. Machakwa.


Dr. Machakwa spoke of the effectiveness of collaborations.

“Thirdly, communities must report all dog bites and avoid dog bites. Always note that vaccination is free. One needs to take the dog for vaccination.
We carry out vaccination and joint awareness campaigns in townships.
During rabies weeks, thousands of dogs are vaccinated annually.
City councils and rural authorities complement the DVS campaigns, and the collaboration helps a lot,” he said.

City of Harare Spokesman, Michael Chideme, shed more light on the program.

“As council, we complement the DVS by running awareness campaigns, we urge people to take their dogs for vaccination, it is free. We also offer treatment to anyone who is unfortunate to have a dog bite, rabies, or no rabies. Each bite is treated as one, and a victim gets the anti rabies jab.

Rabies is fatal. A person who contracts rabies will be put in isolation and treated for relief until he or she dies. There is no cure for rabies.
We call for vaccination of all dogs as the first pillar to rabies prevention, prevention is better than cure, for rabies, there ain’t any,” said Michael Chideme, the City of Harare Spokesman

With wild animals and a vehicle of rabies, the department of Parks and Wildlife runs awareness campaigns and, at times, put to sleep, animals that endanger human life.

“Rabies is a notifiable zoonotic disease which is primarily controlled by the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS). Zimbabwe Parks Veterinary capture can support DVS big time. Mitigation is by vaccinations both animals and humans at risk. We also do a lot of awareness in communities,” said Tinashe Farawo, Parks and Wildlife spokesperson.

It is the media’s duty to raise awareness and spread the message that vaccination is free.

“A small number of people have survived rabies, but most cases are fatal once the symptoms develop. There is no effective treatment at this stage. A person with symptoms should be made as comfortable as possible. They may need breathing assistance,” said Dr Brian Ncube, a family practitioner


Physical signs of rabies in dogs to watch for include fever, difficulty in swallowing, excessive drooling, staggering, seizures, and even paralysis. As the virus progresses, the dog may act as though overstimulated. This means that lights, movement, and even sound may appear to have a negative effect, angering the dog.

Let us prevent rabies, get your dog vaccinated, and it is free.
Prevention remains the best cure.

Feedback: cathymwauyakufa@gmail.com

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