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To Protect Livestock, Watch for Signs of Anthrax

With cattle testing positive for anthrax in North Dakota and Texas, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) is recommending livestock producers protect animals by not only watching for the disease but by consulting with veterinarians about vaccines.

A deadly disease, anthrax is caused by a spore-forming bacteria that can stay alive, but dormant in the soil for years. The bacteria can contaminate soil and grass after periods of wet, cool weather followed by hot, dry conditions. Animals can ingest the bacteria by eating contaminated grass and hay or by inhaling spores.

Although Dennis Hughes, state veterinarian, says anthrax is rare, it is not uncommon. “A few cases are reported in the United States almost every year. Fortunately, there’s an effective vaccine available. Producers are encouraged to discuss preventive vaccinations with their veterinarians. If anthrax is suspected and confirmed by your veterinarian in your livestock, you need to vaccinate as quickly as possible.”

Spotting Symptoms

Common signs of anthrax in livestock include acute fever, staggering, difficulty breathing, and seizures, followed by a quick death – usually within 48 hours. Typically, it takes three to seven days for animals to show symptoms after they have been exposed to the bacteria. Cattle aren’t the only animals that can be affected by anthrax. Deer, other livestock, dogs, and even people are susceptible to the disease.

Because people are also at risk for contracting anthrax, those who handle the vaccine, infected animals, or contaminated animal products should do so with great care. In addition, hands should be washed thoroughly, and long sleeves and gloves should be worn.

NDA also cautions against moving carcasses as they could release bacteria into the air. In addition, do not salvage hides, horns, antlers, skulls, or any other tissue from dead animals.

“Farmers and ranchers make it a priority to protect the health and safety of their animals,” says Hughes. “If a laboratory confirms the presence of anthrax, NDA will work closely with the affected livestock owner to stop movement of animals and implement control measures on the property. Control measures include removing animals from the pasture where anthrax deaths are suspected so spores can’t infect the remaining animals, vaccinations, and properly disposing of dead animals and infected materials.”

If you suspect anthrax in your livestock, notify your local veterinarian or NDA immediately at 402/471-2351.

To learn more about anthrax, visit the NDA website at nda.nebraska.gov/animal/diseases/anthrax/index.html or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/anthrax/basics/index.html.

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