The Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture is reminding producers to vaccinate their livestock following confirmation that anthrax has been found in cattle in the RM of Harris. Anthrax was confirmed by laboratory results on July 28, 2015, as the cause of death in one cow and is the suspected cause of death of two other cattle on the same farm. This is the second report of anthrax in Saskatchewan this year. Alberta reported a case in cattle in the Fort Vermillion area this week.
Anthrax is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, which can survive in spore form for decades in soil. Changes in soil moisture can lead to a build-up of the spores on pastures. Exposure to anthrax increases in drier years when sloughs and potholes dry up and become accessible. Spores can also surface during excavation or when there is excessive run-off.
Producers can protect their animals by vaccinating them each year. Ruminants like bison, cattle, sheep and goats are highly susceptible and are often infected by consuming forage contaminated with spores. Horses can also be infected while swine, birds and carnivores are more resistant to infection. Producers in regions that have experienced previous outbreaks of anthrax are strongly encouraged to vaccinate their animals.
Affected animals are usually found dead without any signs of illness. The carcasses of any animal suspected of having anthrax should not be moved or disturbed. To prevent spreading of spores, carcasses should be protected from farm dogs and cats as well as scavengers such as coyotes or ravens.
Anyone who suspects anthrax should immediately contact their local veterinarian. Testing is required and positive results must be reported to the provincial Chief Veterinary Officer.
Although animal cases pose minimal risk to humans, producers are advised to use caution when dealing with a suspected case of anthrax. In cases where people believe they have been exposed to an infected animal, they should contact their local health authority or physician for advice.
More information on the Ministry of Agriculture’s anthrax response plan can be found at www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/anthraxresponse.