In South Africa there has also been a great deal of confusion in the past with regard to the disease “anthrax”. At times various acute maladies were mistaken for anthrax, or outbreaks of anthrax were ascribed to some other disease which had no connection with it whatsoever. While travelling through Bechuanaland Protectorate in 1850, Livingstone (1857) encountered a very virulent disease which he called “horsesickness”; but as this disease was found to affect horses, cattle and indigenous antelopes, and even man, in whom it produced a “malignant carbuncle”, it can be regarded as anthrax. This is probably the first record of anthrax in South Africa.
The first reference to the existence of anthrax in the Cape Province was made by Branford (1876) when he alluded to an outbreak of “meltziekte” or a form of “gallsickness”, which was probably anthrax, by the Diseases of Cattle and Sheep Commission of 1877. Later Wiltshire (1877, 1878 and 1882, quoted by Kehoe, 1919) confused anthrax with several diseases. He stated that anthrax might manifest itself in many different forms in South Africa, diseases like horsesickness, redwater and sponssiekte being regarded as various types of anthrax, while he considered "gallsickness" and “bushsickness" as modifications of the disease. In the Natal Almanac for 1883, Wiltshire described biliary fever as “anthrax fever”. Lambert (1882) concluded that horsesickness in Natal was identical with anthrax. But the first reliable record of the occurrence of anthrax in South Africa was made by Hutcheon (1880) when he reported on two cases of the disease seen by him. In describing horsesickness in 1881, he referred to it “as of the nature of anthrax”, being influenced probably by Wiltshire’s interpretation of horsesickness. Later he also considered heartwater to be “of the nature of anthrax”.
Later Hutcheon (1882) found Bacillus anthracis in the blood of a sheep which had died under conditions suggestive of anthrax and he was able to differentiate anthrax from diseases like horsesickness, biliary fever, sponssiekte, redwater and heartwater. During the same year he inoculated a number of animals with Pasteur vaccine. In 1883 Hutcheon investigated a severe outbreak of anthrax amongst sheep in the Transkei, at Umtata; but from information obtained by him locally it would appear that the disease had been prevalent for some years. In 1884 he described cases of anthrax in Griqualand West, the disease being reported to be must prevalent during summer.
In 1891 Borthwick referred to an outbreak of anthrax amongst horses in Griqualand West (Kimberley) and claimed to have cured a number of animals by injecting carbolic acid subcutaneously into the swellings. Otto Henning (1892) was the first to incriminate horseflies as transmitters of anthrax to horses, and during the following year he described the first recorded case of anthrax in the ostrich. In 1894 he advised the farmers of Griqualand West to take up preventive inoculation with Pasteur vaccine.
Subsequently several references are made by Hutcheon and his assistants to the occurrence of anthrax in different parts of the Cape Province. In his annual reports for 1896, 1898 and 1903, Hutcheon draws attention to the increasing prevalence of anthrax in the Cape Province, especially in Griqualand West; he points out that the disease is spreading in the Eastern Province as well as in Griqualand West. At the time of Union (1910) the disease was very widespread, and in 1911 Dixon states that, unless more stringent measures are taken for the suppression of the scourge, it is likely to become much more serious. In his subsequent reports Dixon indicated how anthrax was gradually extending.
In Natal anthrax was constantly confused with diseases like horsesickness, redwater and biliary fever. Between 1877 and 1883 Wiltshire frequently referred to these diseases as “anthrax fever”. In 1881 Lambert also considered anthrax and horsesickness to be identical diseases. Probably the first reliable record of the occurrence of anthrax in Natal was made by Wiltshire in 1886, when he reported that several cases of “splenic apoplexy” occurred amongst natives as a result of the ingestion of diseased meat. Serious outbreaks of anthrax were described by Wiltshire in his Annual Reports for 1887 and 1888. According to the same author, the first microscopical diagnosis of anthrax was made by van der Plank* in 1983. Later Watkins-Pitchford* Woollatt* and Power* in turn, pointed out how serious the disease was becoming and urged the use of more effective control measures for the suppression of the scourge.
Although no Government Veterinarian was appointed by the Free State before the time of rinderpest (1896-1897), the Volksraad legislated for anthrax as early as 1891, and in 1897 a quantity of anthrax vaccine was dispatched to the Free State from the Government Veterinary Laboratory at Grahamstown. But it is very difficult to trace any official record with regard to the existence of the disease prior to 1904, when Flintoff makes a casual reference to four outbreaks of anthrax in the Province. After 1905 better records of the prevailing stock diseases were kept and the scourge was fond to exist for more extensively than was thought at first. But, as the regulations enforced for the suppression of the diseases were ineffective, anthrax rapidly became very widespread. By 1923 no less than 357 outbreaks were recorded, and it is not certain whether the annual record of outbreaks fully reflected the extent of the prevalence of the disease.
In the Transvaal also very little information with regard to the incidence of the disease prior to 1904 can be obtained. In the annual report of the Chief Veterinary surgeon of the Transvaal for 1903-1904, Stockman (1905) treats anthrax as “a very insignificant item in the catalogue of South African diseases”. In 1904 only three outbreaks were officially recorded, but after that year more outbreaks were recorded every year until 1923, when no less than 560 outbreaks were scheduled.
After Union (1910) Gray repeatedly referred to the increasing prevalence of the scourge, the indifference on the part of stock-owners in disposing of infected carcasses, and the urgent necessity of enforcing general inoculation of stock with the view of protecting them against the rayages of the disease.
* Cited by Viljoen, Curson and Fourie (1928)
According to Hutcheon (1903) cases of epizootic lymphangitis existed in the Cape before the South African War, but during the course of the war several shipments containing infected horses were imported from India, and possibly from other Eastern countries, with the result that the disease was disseminated throughout the country during the military operations. After the war epizootic lymphangitis became very general throughout South Africa and was scheduled as an infectious disease in the Cape in 1903. It remained extensively prevalent during the years immediately following the war, obtaining a foothold particularly in parts of the Eastern Province of the Cape and along the coastal regions of Natal.
According to Theiler (1903) epizootic lymphangitis was not known in the Transvaal before the South African War, but it became very prevalent immediately after the war.
As a result of the inauguration of stringent control measures for the eradication of the scourge, epizootic lymphangitis has been gradually exterminated from the greater part of South Africa, but has persisted more or less enzootically in certain parts of the Eastern Province of the Cape from where sporadic cases have been reported from time to time.
After the South African War the disease was conveyed from South Africa by means of military horses to South-West Africa, Rhodesia, East Africa and England. In England the infection was rapidly disseminated to several remount depots, studs and private stables. After a time the mulady became so prevalent that the British Government formulated special control measures for its suppression, a precaution which apparently led to the eradication of the disease by 1906.
Cryptococcus infection. Horse. (Onderstepoort collection).