SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Anthrax arrived this month for the first time this year when it was confirmed in a cattle herd in Ziebach County.
South Dakota State Veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson said there is a strict process for identifying, testing and confirming anthrax in livestock. The process also includes strict disposal steps.
Anthrax has been around for thousands of years and could date back to the Bible’s Moses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), anthrax could possibly have originated in Egypt and Mesopotamia. “Many scholars think that in Moses’ time, during the 10 plagues of Egypt, anthrax may have caused what was known as the fifth plague, described as a sickness affecting horses, cattle, sheep, camels and oxen,” the CDC said.
Descriptions of a disease affecting both animals and humans that appear to be anthrax have been found as early as Biblical times, according to Baylor College of Medicine and other sources.
Russ Daly, a veterinarian with South Dakota State University Extension, said anthrax was among the first animal diseases for which a vaccine was developed. Daly said in a June 10, 2020, extension post “Louis Pasteur developed a vaccine in 1881 consisting of two different preparations given two weeks apart.” In the late 1930s, a vaccine using a weakened strain was developed and it is used today.
Because cases may not be common, the public may get complacent.
“I’ve heard some folks say, ‘My grandpa used to talk about it,'” Thompson said. Then “all of a sudden we see it,” she said.
The livestock owner in Ziebach County saw several dead animals in an unvaccinated herd.
“Most of the time, when people realize it (could be or is) anthrax they find dead animals. If the animals are still alive, they might be bloated, there could be a discharge from the nose…,” Thompson said.
Anthrax can kill livestock and cause severe illness, even death in humans.
“It’s absolutely a risk,” Thompson said.
That’s why there are strict rules for anthrax cases.
When a livestock owners sees dead animals, the first step is to say away from those animals, Thompson said.
Producers will call their veterinarian. Thompson said the relationship between veterinarians and producers is critical. The veterinarians are on the front lines and know how to properly handle anthrax, she said.
The veterinarian will take a sample from the animal. “Just like with people, they will punch into the vein of the animal with a syringe or another method,” Thompson said.
The veterinarian will wear protective gear including booties on their feet, she said.
The sample is properly shipped or transported to the SDSU lab in Brookings for tests.
“There are protocols we go through for packaging…,” Thompson said. The protocols are established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Veterinary Associates.
When anthrax is detected in the lab, the herd needs to be quarantined, Thompson said.
The dead animals need to be disposed.
“It’s generally recommended that the carcasses are burned,” Thompson said. The feeding equipment and similar should also be burned.
“The actual pathogen is effected by burning,” Thompson said. Another method is to use a harsh chemical to destroy the pathogen.
North Dakota State University said the preferred method of destruction is incineration. “If incineration or cremation is not possible, burying the carcass deep (at least 6 feet) is acceptable,” NDSU said in a guideline.
A pit should be dug to burn the carcass, according to NDSU.
The Montana Secretary of State cites these regulations: “(2) Carcasses and hides of animals that have died of anthrax must be completely burned, covered with a disinfectant approved by the state veterinarian, and buried 6 feet deep from the tip of the carcass, or sterilized in a licensed rendering plant under the immediate supervision of a deputy state veterinarian.”
Precautions are necessary because of the nature of the anthrax spore.
“It’s a really resistant spore,” Thompson said.
Floods and extremely dry weather can cause anthrax spores to stir in the environment.
Thompson said sheep or cattle may graze close to the ground in dry conditions, which could increase exposure to anthrax. Flooding disturbs the soil and subsoil.