Anthrax confirmed in 50 dead cattle

Aug 17, 2012
by WLJ

There have been two new confirmed cases of anthrax on two additional premises in Logan County, CO. The new cases are located adjacent to the original case announced on Aug. 8, 2012. No other livestock on the newly affected properties are showing clinical signs of the disease. Adjacent ranchers have been notified.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) began investigating the original case involving one deceased cow that was confirmed to have been infected with the disease and approximately 50 dead cattle that are suspected to have been exposed. No cattle left the original location prior to the quarantine and no cattle entered the food chain, according to CDA.

State officials originally believed the case was confined to the one premises.

“Colorado has not had an anthrax case in 31 years, but anthrax outbreaks are not uncommon in the western United States. We are dedicated to providing the necessary response to ensure that the investigation works quickly to limit the spread of this disease,” said Colorado State Veterinarian Dr. Keith Roehr.

Despite the 31 years, Roehr said it is not uncommon for adjacent properties to contain the anthrax spores in the soil.

“We certainly hoped there wouldn’t be other herds affected but this is the nature of the disease,” said Roehr. “We will expand our efforts onto the adjacent premises to protect the health of these cattle. At this time, all of the neighboring herds have been vaccinated for anthrax and affected herds are being treated.”

All three premises have been quarantined and people, cattle and equipment that may have come into contact with anthrax are being monitored during this investigation.

“Our focus is on the potential for human exposure,” said Dr. Tony Cappello, district public health administrator for the Northeast Colorado Health Department (NCHD). “We are currently conducting our own public health investigation and contacting individuals that have been involved with the livestock. Anthrax is not spread from person to person and exposure is limited only to those who had contact with the affected cattle or the immediate area.”

Anthrax can develop naturally in soil; the spores can become active in association with periods of marked climatic or ecologic change, such as heavy rainfall, flooding or drought, which can then expose the anthrax spores to grazing livestock. Outbreaks of anthrax are commonly associated with neutral or alkaline soils. In these areas, the spores apparently revert to the vegetative form and multiply to infectious levels so that cattle, horses, mules, sheep and goats may readily become infected when grazing such areas.

Anthrax is a serious disease because it can cause the rapid loss of a large number of animals in a very short time. Often, animals are found dead with no illness detected. Appropriate carcass disposal is being used to prevent further soil contamination.

Producers should consult their veterinarians and vaccinate their livestock, if deemed appropriate.

Humans or animals can become infected by coming in contact with infected animals, soil or water. Anthrax infection can be treated with antibiotics, especially if caught in the early stages.

While CDA continues to monitor and remediate the situation with the livestock owners, the NCHD is performing its own public health investigation, ensuring that anyone at risk for a possible exposure to anthrax receives treatment. “Anthrax is not transmitted person to person,” said Cappello. “In this instance, the exposure risk for humans is isolated to those who had direct contact with the infected cattle or the immediate ground around those cattle.”

NCHD has also been working with the Solid Waste Program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and CDA to ensure proper disposal of the animal carcasses. Plans are to incinerate the carcasses in a pit on the property. Incineration kills anthrax spores and is the best means of disposal of the carcasses.

“At this point we really don’t anticipate any health threat for the residents in northeast Colorado in regards to anthrax or from the smoke or plume from the incineration of the carcasses,” said Cappello. “However, knowing how rare the presence of anthrax is in Colorado, we realize that people may have questions and concerns and we hope we can be a resource to answer those concerns.”

Anthrax vaccination is an important tool in preventing disease although full protective immunity is not achieved until seven-10 days after a second booster dose is administered.

Frequently asked questions:

What is Anthrax? Anthrax is a serious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores. There are three forms of anthrax: cutaneous, inhalation and gastrointestinal.

Is it contagious? Who is susceptible?

Yes, it is contagious to all mammals, including humans. Animals most susceptible include cattle, sheep, horses and goats. Humans or animals can become infected by coming in contact with infected animals, soil or water. If humans become affected, 90-95 percent of the infections are the cutaneous form.

How is it transmitted? Anthrax is transmitted through direct contact with the bacteria or by ingesting or breathing in the spores.

How is it treated? Anthrax can be treated with antibiotics, especially if caught in the early stages. There is a vaccine for humans and livestock. People on the quarantined location and adjacent ranches have been contacted. — WLJ