As you may have heard, we have had livestock deaths this summer due to anthrax.

Anthrax outbreaks are usually prompted by mild, wet winters and springs followed by dry periods.

In years like this one, we need to be alert to the warning signs of anthrax as well as how to deal with suspected cases. Sheep, goats, horses, cattle, swine, deer and humans are common species prone to anthrax. Deer are more susceptible to the disease because they move around and spread it to other areas. Soil types and weather are factors that cause the spread of the disease.

Anthrax is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Like other bacteria, it produces spores as a way to survive unfavorable conditions. Runoff can concentrate spores in low-lying areas to lay dormant in the soil for many years. The bacteria can surface, contaminating soil and grass after periods of wet, cool weather, followed by hot, dry conditions.

Under these conditions, spores become concentrated on the soil surface and on vegetation, where foraging animals can become exposed to the disease. Anthrax spores are especially common in alkaline soils.

Symptoms of the disease include lethargy, a loss of coordination, staggering and difficulty breathing. Another typical symptom of anthrax is blood oozing from the animal’s orifices (nose, mouth and anus). However, it should be noted that not all affected animals will show this symptom.

A landowner who notices any of these symptoms should report them to the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) or seek help from a veterinarian. Veterinarians will send tissue samples from suspected cases to the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory for confirmation. Officials will then advise how to best manage the situation.

A positive case will trigger quarantine and require livestock vaccination.

The prompt reporting of instances in which animals are acting abnormally and exhibiting anthrax-like symptoms is essential to the early detection and management of outbreaks. TAHC regulations require the thorough burning of each carcass to prevent further contamination of the soil.

Burning ensures that the anthrax bacteria will be killed. Make certain to keep fires from burning out of control. When under a burn ban, burning must be coordinated with local fire authorities prior to carcass disposal.

A vaccine is available specifically for livestock and horses; however, to be effective, it must be given before the animal is exposed to the bacteria.
Anthrax is a summer disease, so the best timing of vaccination is during the spring. Immunity may be achieved in as little as 5-8 days after vaccination, but may take longer.

Immunity is protective a few weeks following vaccination, but diminishes after several months, so annual boosters are necessary.

Whether dealing with vaccines or carcasses, wear long sleeves and gloves. Since the anthrax vaccine is a live spore preparation, and anthrax is a potential human disease, a physician should be consulted if accidental human exposure to the vaccine occurs. Also, do not move or open bloated carcasses as that could release bacteria into the air.

For more information, consult your veterinarian or TAHC.