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Anthrax

Anthrax is a fatal, contagious and infectious soil-borne disease that can affect all mammals, although cattle, sheep and other grazing livestock are especially susceptible and often die suddenly without showing any signs of disease.
 
Disease outbreaks are most common in the summer months and have occurred in Manitoba, mainly in the Interlake, south-central and south-eastern regions of the province.
 
Anthrax is preventable through annual vaccination of susceptible livestock and producers are encouraged to ask their veterinarians if vaccination is appropriate for their farm.
 

What can you do if you suspect Anthrax in your animals?

  • Livestock producers who suspect anthrax, or have a sudden unexplained death of an animal, should contact their local veterinarian immediately. It is essential to get an accurate diagnosis as soon as possible.
  • It is also important to follow your veterinarian's recommendations for proper disposal of the carcass to prevent further spread of the disease. Cover the carcass with a heavy tarp (weighted down or staked) to protect it from scavengers that can further spread the disease.
  • Anthrax is a federally and provincially reportable disease. All suspect cases must be reported. Although the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) no longer responds to anthrax cases in Canada, within the province, Manitoba Agriculture Food and Rural Development (MAFRD), through the Chief Veterinary Office (CVO) and the Livestock Branch, will now work with producers and veterinarians in responding to any suspected anthrax cases.
  • Any veterinarians who encounter a suspected anthrax case should contact the CVO and collect a blood sample from the carcass. The veterinarian can submit the sample to Veterinary Diagnostic Services (VDS) at no cost to the producer.
  • If anthrax is confirmed, MAFRD will report the outbreak to the CFIA on behalf of the veterinarian and producer, and work with the veterinarian to manage the risk to ensure public and animal health is maintained.
  • Costs associated with carcass disposal are the responsibility of the producer.

What causes Anthrax?

Anthrax is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, which forms spores that can survive in the soil for decades. Changes in soil moisture (ex: flooding or drought) or recent soil disturbance activities (ex: excavation) can expose spores to the soil surface.
 
Animals become infected by eating contaminated soil or forages and/or breathing in contaminated dust. Animals may also become infected through animal to animal transmission (ex: large biting flies or reusing contaminated needles).

What can you expect during an Anthrax outbreak?

  •  Anthrax outbreaks typically occur in the middle of summer when livestock are on pasture, especially when it is hot and dry after a period or flooding or heavy rain. Anthrax can also occur at other times of the year, included winter, from contaminated forages.
  • Grazing animals, such as cattle, bison, sheep, goats and elk, are the most susceptible to anthrax.
  • Death may occur within hours, before signs of disease are observed.
  • One or more dead animals are typically found dead, bloated with blood oozing from body opening (ex: eyes, ears, nose, mouth and anus).
  • If clinical signs are observed, affected animals may have a high fever, depression, bleeding from body openings, quickly followed by death.
  • Although all mammals can be infected with anthrax, horses and swine are less susceptible than ruminants, and carnivores (ex: cats and dogs) are considered the least susceptible. Clinical signs in these species vary, and can include fever, depression, localized swellings, diarrhea and colic.
  • Birds do not become infected naturally, but can spread anthrax spores by feeding on infected carcasses.

 What can you do to prevent Anthrax from occurring in your animals?

  • When animals are found dead on pasture, call your veterinarian immediately.
  • Do not move or open the carcass, as this can further spread the spores and infect other animals.
  • Cover the carcass with a heavy tarp (weighted down or staked) to prevent scavengers.
  • In Manitoba, anthrax can occur in any region. High-risk areas for anthrax include the south-east, south-central and Interlake regions. Livestock producers in the high-risk areas should vaccinate their animals every year, about a month before moving them onto pasture.
  • Management practices such as overgrazing, using recently flooded pastures and improperly assessing and disposing of dead animals can also increase exposure to anthrax spores and these practices should be avoided.

What can you do if you are concerned for your own health?

Human cases of anthrax from exposure to infected livestock are rare, but can occur. Always wear gloves when handling carcasses.
 
If you have been in contact with a carcass or fluids from a carcass that is diagnosed, or suspected to be infected, with anthrax:
 
  • Contact your doctor or local public health office or;
  • Phone Health Links–Info Santé at 204-788-8200 in Winnipeg; or toll-free 1-888-315-9257

Contact

For more information about anthrax or to report a suspected case:
  • Contact your local veterinarian or 
  • The CVO at 204-945-7684


 

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