A horsey dinner party in rural Siberia has reportedly led to a small outbreak of anthrax. Unfortunately, some of the infected people have left their sick beds, escaped the hospital, and are now on the run.
The regional health ministry in the Tuva Region of southern Siberia sounded the alarm on Tuesday, July 18, noting that "four patients hospitalized with anthrax refused treatment at the infectious diseases hospital and left the medical facility without authorization,” TASS news agency reports.
One patient remains under medical supervision, but the whereabouts of the others remain unknown.
The statement added that one of the patients had recently visited a shepherds’ encampment where over 100 unvaccinated animals were held.
Earlier this month, TASS reported that the people fell sick after slaughtering a sick horse and then eating its internal organs. To curtail the risk of an outbreak, a total of 84 people have been vaccinated and several were kept under medical observation.
"The threat of an epidemic breaking out has been ruled out. Anthrax is not transmitted from person to person," Rospotrebnadzor, the Russian public health watchdog, noted.
Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by a bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. Infections can be very unpleasant and potentially deadly if left untreated. It typically starts with flu-like symptoms that develop into severe respiratory difficulties. Direct contact with the pathogen can result in boil-like lesions on the skin that develop a black center. Thankfully, it is treatable with antibiotics and it’s not generally spread from human to human.
The bacteria naturally lurks in the soil where it can survive for decades or even centuries, but it can emerge in both wild and domesticated animals. Contact with animals is generally how humans come into contact with the infection.
Siberia is a part of the world that’s well-versed with outbreaks of anthrax. In 2016, a severe outbreak of anthrax emerged in the Yamal peninsula, killing thousands of reindeer and affecting at least 40 humans. It’s been speculated that the outbreak arose from an infected deer carcass that had been “defrosted” by warming temperatures associated with climate change. The area had also recently seen population growth and a drop in deer vaccination, creating the ideal conditions for an outbreak.
Just as the public health agency said, the risk of this latest outbreak in Siberia turning nasty is slim as anthrax is not generally contagious. Nevertheless, it’s a sturdy reminder that the threat of this vicious bacteria is always lingering.