What to know about Anthrax disease as Nigerian government warns against ponmo consumption

The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) recently warned Nigerians against consuming cow hides (ponmo), smoked meat, and bush meat to avoid contact with the deadly Anthrax disease.

This comes amid reported disease cases in neighbouring West African sub-regions such as Northern Ghana bordering Burkina Faso and Togo.

In the Binduri District of the Upper East Region in Ghana, one person was reported dead after eating the carcass of an anthrax-infected dead cow. Also, four cows had died of anthrax in one of the suburbs of the same region.

What is Anthrax disease?

Anthrax disease, also known as malignant pustule or woolsorters’ disease, is a serious illness caused by exposure to Bacillus anthracis bacteria. The bacteria resides in the soil and affects both domestic and wild animals. 

Animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats, among others, can become infected when they breathe in or ingest spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water. 

Mayo Clinic explains that human beings can be infected through direct contact with sick animals (affected by Bacillus anthracis). 

Also, a person can contract Anthrax disease through exposure to products from infected animals, for instance, wool or hides. Hence, the argument is that some people are at higher risk of contracting the anthrax disease than others. 

These are people who work in farms/livestock; researchers and lab workers who study the bacteria; wool mill/tannery, and slaughterhouse workers.

Mode of transmission and symptoms

Typical symptoms include skin sores, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and shock. However, the symptoms of this disease are peculiar to the mode of transmission. These are cutaneous, inhalation, ingestion/gastrointestinal, and injection. 

  1. Cutaneous (contact with skin): The bacteria can come in through a cut or abrasion on the skin. The infected person may develop small itchy blisters which resemble an insect bite. It further develops into a painless swollen sore with a black centre, and there could be swelling in nearby lymph glands and tissue. It has been characterised as the most common but is only fatal in about 20 per cent of cases. 
  1. Inhalation: A person may breathe in anthrax spores. This is said to be the most dangerous though less common. Symptoms include sore throat, mild fever, muscle aches, fatigue, chest discomfort, coughing, nausea and vomiting.
  2. Ingestion/Gastrointestinal anthrax: Humans can ingest anthrax by eating or drinking something contaminated by anthrax spores. This could be through eating the undercooked meat of infected animals. Symptoms include fever, chills; swelling in the neck or glands and painful swallowing; nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting, which may be bloody; bloody diarrhoea; headache; stomachache.
  3. Injection anthrax: this is said to be very rare and affects people who inject illegal substances, particularly heroin. Symptoms are abscesses in and around the injection site, blisters and bumps around the injection site, fever, and a swollen sore near the injection site. If it worsens, it can progress into meningitis, organ failure and shock.

The disease is considered non-contagious as it cannot pass from one individual to another. 


As a means of prevention, the Federal government called for vaccinating animals at risk. However, infected animals cannot be vaccinated.  

The government also warned against consuming cow hides, smoked meat and bush meat pending the control of the situation. 

This agrees with a suggestion from Medical News Today which urged people to consume meat suitably slaughtered and cooked.

“Those who work with fur, hides, and wool, especially if these are imported, should take extra care”, the report added.


Treatment of anthrax disease should commence as early as possible to disallow complications.

Treatment includes antibiotics and antitoxin. According to the CDC, antibiotics can treat all types of anthrax disease, while antitoxins are administered when the anthrax spores have become “activated” in the human body. 

Meanwhile, the anthrax vaccine is usually administered to at-risk people but cannot be approved for use after exposure to the disease. However, this may change in an emergency, such as when anthrax is used in terrorism. A medical practitioner would determine how this should be administered for treatment. 

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