As a livestock producer, whether it be cattle, sheep, goats or another species, the health of your herd is nearly always your primary concern.
Healthy herds are happier and perform better, leading to a better farm environment and increased profits. Common livestock health issue like flies, overgrown hooves or scours can usually be diagnosed and treated relatively quickly, since most herdsmen have experience with those types of problems. But what about more serious potential herd health problems on the farm – like the threat of anthrax?
What is Anthrax?
Anthrax is a very serious, infectious disease that can occur naturally in the soil, and is caused by a bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. This disease primarily affects wild and domestic grazing livestock like cattle, sheep, goats, antelope and deer when they ingest or breathe in spores from contaminated areas, but it can affect humans on rare occasions if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated products from an infected animal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains anthrax in three stages:
1. The bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis produce spores that are dormant and can live in the soil for decades.
2. When spores get into the body of an animal or a human (full of water, sugars and other nutrients), the spores can be activated and turned into active, growing cells.
3. Once active, the bacteria can multiply and spread, creating toxins and causing severe illness and death.
Diagnosing and Treating Anthrax
Anthrax can be diagnosed. It can strike quickly – the incubation period is three to seven days – and can kill otherwise healthy looking animals rapidly. If the animal does show signs of anthrax, however, an article by The Food and Agriculture Association of the United Nations noted that symptoms can be “characterized by fever, depression, difficulty in breathing and convulsions.”
If anthrax is discovered in an animal, it must be treated quickly and with a course of antibiotics. Prompt disposal of contaminated carcasses, bedding and feed is essential, as is good hygiene for people who have come into contact with the animal. Animals that have died of anthrax are teeming with the infectious spores and occasionally humans contract the disease when they are exposed to contaminated aerosols or animal products, according to the University of Missouri Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research. Cutaneous anthrax is the most common form and begins as a sore on the face, arms or hands, developing into a painless ulcer with a black, necrotic center. Patients suffering from the less common inhalational anthrax may have fever, non-productive cough, chest discomfort, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, headache and vomiting.
What Is the Risk of Anthrax in the US?
Anthrax is, without doubt, a very serious disease – but as a rule, it is not common in the United States.
“Anthrax is rare in the United States, but sporadic outbreaks do occur in wild and domestic grazing animals such as cattle or deer. Anthrax is more common in developing countries and countries that do not have veterinary public health programs that routinely vaccinate animals against anthrax. In the United States, yearly vaccination of livestock is recommended in areas where animals have had anthrax in the past,” stated an article by the CDC.
Cases of anthrax are seen yearly in Texas, North and South Dakota and other midwestern states, but there have been no cases in Arkansas or Oklahoma in many years.