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‘Crypto’ and other diseases we get from animals are on the rise in poor countries

Urban zoonoses and food safety: Nairobi

Leonard Gitau, a small-scale livestock farmer in Dagoretti, Nairobi, speaks to journalists during a media tour of urban farmers in Nairobi on 21 Sep 2012 (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).

Sarah Ooko, special correspondent for the East African, reports that ‘animal to human diseases are on the rise’ in this region.

‘Zoonoses’ is the term used for diseases transmitted between animals and people; some 60% of all human diseases are ‘zoonotic, or originate from animals. Ooko cites as an example cryptosporidiosis—known as ‘crypto’ to its researchers (and not to be confused with ‘Kryptonite’, the ban of Superman and other [fictional] Kryptonians)—which is a parasitic diarrhoeal disease passed from cattle to humans. It is spread through the fecal-oral route, often through contaminated water; the main symptom is self-limiting diarrhoea in people with intact immune systems. In immuno-compromised individuals, such as AIDS patients, the symptoms are particularly severe and often fatal.

‘A recent study by the University of Nairobi and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) published in the journal Tropical Animal Health and Production . . . analysed a type of zoonotic disease known as [c]ryptosporidiosis (commonly called [c]rypto) that poses a major risk to human and animal health in Africa.

‘The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 800 million people are engaged in urban agriculture globally—mainly in cities in developing countries.

‘Gilbert Njuguna, 65, lives with his wife, daughter and granddaughter on a one-acre farm a few kilometres from Nairobi city. Apart from growing food crops, he also keeps five cows, 10 goats and free range chicken.

‘In spite of the financial benefit and the food security that farms like Njuguna’s provide, research has shown that this group is extremely vulnerable to zoonotic diseases.

‘Prof Erastus Kang’ethe, who works at the University of Nairobi’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, says [c]rypto spreads through the stool of infected humans or animals.

‘Prof Kang’ethe, also the lead author of the study, says that even though the disease can affect anyone, it is particularly fatal for people with low immunity especially those infected with HIV/Aids, adding that the disease is dangerous to children too.

‘Diarrhoea is currently the second leading cause of infant mortality worldwide, killing around 1.5 million children each year . . . .

‘Previous studies found [c]rypto present in 18 per cent of Nairobi households and in 25 per cent of children with diarrhoea in a Ugandan hospital. In Tanzania, it was found in 35 per cent of calves. “So anyone keeping livestock should be concerned,” says Dr Kang’ethe.

‘To curb its spread, Prof Kang’ethe advises people to wash and cook food well, boil water and milk before drinking, and use protective gear such as gloves, gumboots and aprons while handling animals. . . .

‘Critics have often argued that to minimise the risk of zoonotic diseases, urban agriculture should be discouraged.

‘But Dr Delia Grace, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at ILRI, says that a careful assessment should be done. “When the benefits are greater than the harms, farming should be encouraged,” she says.

‘Urban farming, research has shown, leads to creation of jobs, income generation, improved food security, nutrition and health—especially in many sub-Saharan African cities where the majority of the population is poor and live in slums.

‘Prof Kang’ethe calls for strong surveillance systems and mapping of zoonotic disease hot spots to reduce their risk among vulnerable groups.’

Read the whole article by Sarah Ooko in the East African:
Animal to human diseases on the rise, 6 Oct 2012.

Read ILRI’s news release on this subject:
Livestock in the city: New study of  ‘farm animals’ raised in African cities yields surprising results, 15 Oct 2012.

Read an ILRI factsheet on:
Urban Agriculture and Zoonoses in Nairobi, 2012.

Read other clippings on this subject:
Al Jazeera: Slum livestock = Food? Income? Disease? All three?–Al Jazeera reports on ILRI research, 7 Nov 2012.
AllAfrica/Institute of Development Studies: Cattle in the capital, managed well, can improve nutrition and health in Kenya’s slums, 4 Nov 2012.
Guardian: Draconian bans on urban livestock in developing countries ‘not the answer’–Guardian on ILRI report, 15 Oct 2012.
GlobalPost: Urban agriculture: Where suburbs and farms, pathogens and livestock, meet and mix, 9 Oct 2012.
CNN: The looming danger of diseases spread from farm animals to people–CNN, 9 Oct 2012.

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