Anthrax Confirmed in Val Verde and Crockett Counties

It’s the same song, yet another verse for naturally-occurring anthrax cases in livestock and wildlife in Val Verde and Crockett Counties in Southwest Texas. A little rain, a lot of hot weather and the invisible, spore-forming bacteria Bacillus anthracis has resurfaced, putting unvaccinated livestock and grazing wildlife at risk in the area.

“Anthrax has been confirmed in a pen of deer in Val Verde County, and in a Charolais bull in Crockett County. We know that that anthrax often goes under-reported, as we hear of anecdotal reports of livestock or deer losses without laboratory confirmation. Many ranchers forego the veterinary inspection and laboratory tests, and, instead, just begin vaccinating,” reported Dr. Bob Hillman, Texas’ state veterinarian and head of the Texas Animal Health Commission. “Anthrax cases are not unusual, but a laboratory confirmation should alert ranchers and livestock owners that it is time to vaccinate their animals in Val Verde, Crockett and surrounding counties.”

“Vacationers and hunters get concerned about anthrax, but there is no need to worry, if proper precautions are taken,” said Dr. Hillman. “If you travel to an area where an anthrax case has occurred, avoid touching or handling sick or dead animals, don’t pick up bones or shed antlers, and don’t swim in ponds or streams where there are dead animals nearby. The same advice goes for your pets, too. By the time hunting season starts, cool weather usually puts an end to anthrax cases. Always harvest only healthy-looking animals.”

Anthrax is a reportable disease in Texas. While laboratory tests, conducted by the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station, are needed to confirm infection, suspected cases also are to be reported to the TAHC at 1-800-550-8242, where a veterinarian is on call 24 hours a day. If an outbreak occurs in dairy animals, producers are to call the TAHC immediately.

Dr. Hillman explained that anthrax is naturally occurring around the world. After an animal dies from the disease and isn’t properly burned, the bacteria will lie dormant in the soil. The anthrax bacteria resurfaces on grass or forage only under ideal weather and soil conditions during spring and summer months. By the time an animal ingests the anthrax bacteria and exhibit staggering, trembling or convulsions, death is inevitable. TAHC regulations require that the animal carcasses, manure and bedding be incinerated. This will keep wild animals from being exposed to the disease, and it will also kill the bacteria, preventing another site where the anthrax can resurface.

Most of Texas’ anthrax cases occur in a triangle bounded by Uvalde, Ozona and Eagle Pass, which takes in portions of Crockett, Val Verde, Sutton, Edwards, Kinney, Uvalde and Maverick counties. However, Dr. Hillman said anthrax can occur anywhere. Among the cases confirmed this summer are several horses, farmed buffalo and other livestock in Minnesota; cattle in Saskatchewan, Canada; free-ranging bison in the Northwest Territories in Canada; sheep, goats and cattle in Turkey; cattle in Peru; sheep in Russia; and several cows in Wales, in the United Kingdom.

Several steps should be followed when anthrax occurs in an area:

1. Wear long sleeves and gloves when handling carcasses or when working with or vaccinating livestock to avoid contaminating any sores or scratches on arms or hands. See your doctor if you develop an unusual-looking sore on your hands, arms or other exposed skin. Although it is very rare to contract skin anthrax, this infection requires treatment with antibiotics prescribed by a physician.

2. Practice good sanitation! Wash your hands after handling livestock (even if you wear gloves.) Disinfect equipment used on the animals or carcasses. Keep pets and children away from carcasses or bones of dead animals. Move healthy animals away from a pasture where animals have died from the disease.

3. Properly dispose of animal carcasses by burning to prevent exposure to other animals, such as predators or dogs.

4. Vaccinate livestock if cases occur in the surrounding areas. Anthrax vaccine is a “live” vaccine, so it must not be administered with antibiotics. Vaccinated animals must be withheld from slaughter for two months.

5. Restrict the movement of livestock onto or from an affected premise until animals can develop immunity through vaccination (about 10 days).

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