Anthrax Information for Cattle Producers
Where is anthrax found?
Anthrax spores occur naturally in the soil of areas historically associated with heavy cattle populations or movement, and where livestock have previously died from the disease. The spores are very hardy, and can survive in the soil for decades. The organism prefers alkaline soils. In addition to Minnesota, anthrax has been reported in other states and Canadian provinces including South Dakota, North Dakota, Texas, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta.
How do livestock get anthrax?
Livestock likely ingest spores as they graze and the spores become active once they are inside the animal's body. Excavation and tilling, as well as drought, can also bring spores to the soil surface. In some cases, anthrax may occur after heavy rain or flooding bring spores to the surface. Animal to animal contact does not spread anthrax.
What are the clinical signs of anthrax in livestock?
Often a seemingly healthy animal dies without showing any clinical signs. In the most acute form of the disease, an animal will suddenly stagger, have convulsions and die. Hemorrhage from the mouth, nose and anus are common. Other symptoms include excitement, often followed by depression, fever, trembling, staggering, and difficulty breathing. Horses may show signs of abdominal pain. Pigs and carnivores are more resistant to the disease and may survive infection. These animals may develop swelling in the neck and throat or have gastrointestinal disturbances. Carcasses of animals that die of anthrax decompose rapidly, and rigor mortis is often incomplete or absent.
What should I do if I suspect anthrax?
An animal that dies suddenly of unknown causes in anthrax endemic areas should be treated as an anthrax suspect. Do not touch or move the animal. Your veterinarian should investigate the death and collect a blood sample to test for anthrax. A post mortem examination should not be performed as this can release anthrax bacteria into the environment. All suspect and confirmed cases of anthrax will be reported immediately to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health by your veterinarian. The Board of Animal Health will provide guidance on carcass disposal.
Is there a risk that my family or I could contract anthrax?
There are several precautions you can take to minimize the risk of contracting anthrax. Any animal that dies suddenly should be considered a potential anthrax case. Consult your veterinarian immediately, and do not touch, move, or dress the animal. If contact with the animal is unavoidable, wear latex gloves and long sleeves. Do not process the animal for home consumption. Though transmission is very rare, even with direct contact, consult your physician if anthrax is confirmed.
What can I do to protect my livestock?
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health recommends that all grazing cattle in northwestern Minnesota be vaccinated for anthrax. Anthrax vaccines are most effective if given in the spring before grazing begins, but do offer protection in the face of an outbreak.
If possible, livestock should not be grazed on previous anthrax sites-particularly if flooding has occurred. Any flooded land in anthrax endemic areas should be considered high risk, and cattle grazing low, wet, or previously flooded land should definitely be vaccinated. Cattle grazing within ten miles of a known anthrax case should also receive high priority for vaccination. Consult your veterinarian for more information on preventing anthrax infection in your herd.
What happens if anthrax is confirmed on my farm?
Once anthrax is confirmed, all animals on the farm are placed under quarantine for 30 days. Carcasses of animals that die should be burned and buried at least six feet deep under the supervision of the Board of Animal Health. Remaining animals should be removed from the infected pasture whenever possible, and vaccinated and treated with long acting penicillin to help prevent further death losses.