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Anthrax May be a Danger to North Dakota Livestock

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This cow was infected with anthrax This cow was infected with anthrax

Photo by North Dakota Department of Agriculture

Anthrax could be a risk to livestock in North Dakota this year, North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian Gerald Stokka warns.

Very dry conditions, which North Dakota experienced this year, or high rainfall can cause it to be a health issue.

“Anthrax is a disease caused by a bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis,” Stokka says. “This bacteria has a special survival mechanism called spore formation. This characteristic allows the bacteria to produce spores with a very hardy, high survival rate. It appears that during times of high rainfall and or very dry conditions, the spores are uncovered and cattle are at risk of infection.

“The spores can survive for years under the right conditions,” he adds. “When these spores come into contact with susceptible cattle, they can ‘hatch’ and infect cattle, resulting in disease and death.”

Anthrax often is associated with the sudden death of cattle and sheep, although it can infect any warm-blooded animals.

Some cattle in a southwestern South Dakota county herd recently died from anthrax.

“This is a reminder to our cattle producers that the threat of anthrax is still present,” Stokka says.

Finding dead livestock often is the only initial sign of an anthrax infection.

“There can be a number of reasons for cattle deaths without signs of illness, including lightning strike, clostridial infections and toxicities, but anthrax should always be considered,” Stokka says. “If the diagnosis of anthrax is suspected and confirmed by your veterinarian, then vaccination needs to be implemented as quickly as possible.”

The commercial vaccine available is a live, nondisease-causing spore vaccine. The dose is 1 cc (1 milliliter) administered subcutaneously (under the skin) in the neck region. All adult cattle and calves should be administered the vaccine.

Cattle receiving the anthrax vaccination shouldn’t be treated with antibiotics because the antibiotics may interfere with the immune response from the vaccine, Stokka says.

NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist Carl Dahlen suggests producers remove all cattle from pastures where anthrax deaths are suspected because any anthrax spores that are present can infect the remaining animals.

“Also, anthrax does carry a risk to humans, so take care to not disturb the carcass,” Dahlen says. “The recommended method of disposal is to burn the carcass and soil on which the carcass was found after placing them in a trench dug in the immediate area of the death.”

Visit NDSU’s publication at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/livestock/anthrax for more information on anthrax.

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