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Paynesville Press - October 24, 2001

Anthrax is not new

By Jim Salfer, Stearns County extension educator

Anthrax has been in the news daily over the last couple of weeks. However, anthrax is not a new disease.

There have been over 200 cases diagnosed in Minnesota over the past 90 years. The last outbreak was this year in extreme northwest Minnesota and involved 90 animals. Nationally, there have been 200 cases of anthrax reported in humans in the past 50 years with the last reported case in Minnesota in 1953.

Anthrax is caused by a bacterium, bacillius anthracis. Bacillius anthracis forms spores when exposed to the environment. These spores are resistant to drying. UV light, temperature extremes, desiccation, and chemical disinfectants. It can remain viable in the soil for decades. The most common ways animals get infected is by ingesting these spores when grazing. Therefore, cattle, goats, deer, and horses are animals most often affected. Because the bacteria are ingested, rapid death often occurs in animals.Death from anthrax is often confused with lightning strikes because death is so rapid.

Producers that have had anthrax identified in their area should watch for “sudden” death or acute illness, especially among grazing animals. Any suspicious cases should be reported promptly to their local veterinarian. Bear and deer hunters in areas where anthrax has been diagnosed should be on the lookout for any diseased animals. Hunters in extreme northwestern Minnesota should be especially cautious. Any suspicious animals should not be harvested and should be reported to authorities immediately. The same principle applies for animals suspected of having any disease. None of these animals should be harvested for food.

In humans there are three forms of the disease: cutaneous, pulmonary and intestinal. Cutaneous or skin anthrax is the most common form of the disease. This form accounts for over 90 percent of all cases and results when the organism enters broken skin. With early identification and prompt antibiotic treatment the risk of developing complications are rare.

The pulmonary form of the disease is rare and caused by breathing the spores from contaminated material. The intestinal form of anthrax is caused by the consumption of inadequately cooked meat. There has never been a reported case of intestinal anthrax in Minnesota.

For more information, check the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary website at www.cvm. or your local county extension office.

1. Anthrax is a bacterial disease that occurs sporadically in the United States in both animals and humans.
•Anthrax has been diagnosed in cattle, sheep, or goats in most states, with cases more numerous in the south and Midwest.
•Anthrax bacteria form spores that can survive in the environment for years, hence anthrax is endemic in selected geographic areas.
•Certain weather patterns, like flooding followed by hot, dry weather, are often associated with anthrax outbreaks.
•Human cases have decreased over time in the United States, with about 200 cases in the last 50 years.

2. Exposure most commonly involves spore-contaminated soil or animal products.
•Animals ingest spores during grazing or contaminated feedstuffs.
•People come in contact with contaminated animal products like wool, hides, or meat from affected animals.

3. Both veterinarians and physicians are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of anthrax.
•Anthrax is most commonly associated with sudden death in cattle. Affected cattle carcasses are burned or buried to prevent further spread.
•Most human cases of anthrax in the United States have been cutaneous involving development of infections on arms, head, or neck. Inhalation anthrax is more rare, with only 18 cases identified in this country in the 20th century.

4. Treatments and vaccines exist for anthrax.
•Affected animal carcasses are destroyed. Animals showing anthrax signs are treated aggressively with antibiotics and the remaining animals in the herd or flock can be vaccinated to prevent further cases.
•Human cases respond best when identified early in the course of the disease and treated aggressively with antibiotics.

5. Anthrax is a reportable disease for both animals and humans.
•Veterinarians report suspected cases to the State Department of Agriculture or Board of Animal Health.
•Physicians report suspected cases to the State Department of Health. Center for Disease Control (CDC) may be requested to assist in follow-up investigations.

6. Keep reference materials pertaining to human and animal diseases readily available. Know where to go for additional information.
•Center for Disease Control and Prevention at
• Minnesota Department of Health at 612-676-5414, or
•Minnesota Board of Animal Health at 612-296-2942 or

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