Anthrax is one of the deadliest spore-forming bacteria, which can spread quickly via air droplets from infected animals to healthy livestock and even humans; however, an annual vaccination can help in decreasing the spread of infection and mortality caused by the disease.
According to latest reports from the service officials at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, it is recommended that all residents vaccinate their animals against anthrax where cases have been reported in the past, in the wake of a recent case that was reported and confirmed by the Texas Animal Health Commission in a cow from southwestern San Angelo.
Reports of Anthrax infection and death in deer and other livestock is rare, but the cases create an air of discomfort and terror in local residents, as suggested by an agent of AgriLife Extension, Josh Blanek, a resident of Tom Green County.
What is anthrax and how does it cause disease and death?
Josh Blanek, quoted in an article on Phys.org, explained:
“Anthrax is an ancient disease caused by spore-forming bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, that most often occur in low-lying areas following drought and then subsequent rains, which can expose the spores in the soil to grazing animals. Non-vaccinated livestock and deer can become infected by ingesting, and on rare occasions, by inhaling the anthrax spores in the soil and on vegetation while grazing contaminated areas. Such cases are invariably fatal.”
He further added that most of the new landowners and leasees are usually unaware of the danger of outbreak (since years go by without any reported case of infection or outbreak).
AgriLife Extension state veterinarian Dr. Floron “Buddy” Faries discussed the mechanism of anthrax spread at College Station. He said that the erosion caused by rainwater is the prime factor that leads to concentration of anthrax spores in the localized areas of soil (that are also referred to as ‘hot spots’). These hot spots contaminate the gazing pastures and further leads to the surfacing of anthrax spores in dusty weather. Additional rain or water helps in relocation of these spores to involve large areas of land to form more hot spots. Over time, when an animal grazes on vegetation grown in or around such hot spots, the introduction of anthrax spores leads to infection in the livestock.
How to prevent anthrax infection in livestock and humans?
In order to limit the death and destruction caused by anthrax, an inexpensive annual vaccination is available for horses and livestock that should be given before the exposure to the bacterium for maximum efficacy. The vaccine is produced and distributed by Colorado Serum Company at fairly inexpensive rates ($1/ dose or 50-dose bottle for $50). Most farmers and landowners vaccinate their live stock annually after spring.
Dr. Faries explained the vaccination timing, stating:
“Fall and winter seasons are not correct timing of anthrax vaccination. Immunity is protective after a few weeks following vaccination. Protective immunity reduces after several months, so annual boosters are necessary. Since anthrax is a summer disease, the correct timing of vaccination is during the spring so animals have protective immunity during the summer season.”
Blanek gave a detailed description of the infected animals in order to help animal keeper avoid any contact with their own livestock. He said that once the animal is infected, the symptoms of disease begin to appear within a week of exposure, with death in 2-3 days after the onset of symptoms. The classic symptomatology involves breathing difficulty, staggering, fever, signs of cold and sudden death. In all such cases, the animal should be separated from other livestock and a veterinarian should be called to confirm the cause.
“People become exposed to anthrax through handling an infected dead or sick animal. The carcass of an animal killed by anthrax usually shows little or no rigor mortis or the stiffness that occurs soon after death. Dark non-clotting blood usually oozes from the mouth, nose and anus and the body quickly bloats and decomposes rapidly.”
Even after the death of the animal, the flesh, skin and even bones remain infected. Any handling of flesh can increase the risk of contaminating the environment with spores of the bacteria. Even the bones of decomposed and dead animals carry the spore that can cause disease.
“Shed antlers are safe to collect, since the antlers are shed from healthy bucks, not infected with anthrax. The risk comes from antlers from carcasses of bucks that died of anthrax, in which case the antlers are still attached to the skull and are not sheds.”
How to ensure safe hunting and anthrax-free meat
A number of helpful strategies can ensure safe hunting and meat consumption. For example, since anthrax bacteria becomes dormant in cooler temperatures, exposure is less likely (since winter is the traditional deer season in Texas). Other strategies are:
– Wearing protective clothing (like latex gloves, covering the exposed parts of your body by wearing long sleeves shirt) can minimize the exposure while hunting or skinning an animal.
– Ensuring the harvest of healthy and disease-free animals only.
– Consumption of only fully-cooked meat.
– Burning of the carcass of infected animal to prevent the re-contamination of soil (as per the recommendations of Texas Animal Health Commission).
– Wearing protective covering (like a face mask while dealing with a sick or infected animal).