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Protect Your Livestock from Anthrax

By Alicia Sopatyk, PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist, Tisdale

May 2017

Contaminated carcasses are the primary source of anthrax spores; however, spores can survive in the soil for decades. Anthrax bacteria grow under wet soil conditions, generally flooded areas, or are carried by runoff and form spores when the soil dries.

Anthrax is a federally-reportable and provincially-notifiable disease and, if suspected, you must contact your local veterinarian for proper diagnosis and disposal. Vaccination is the best protection against this disease and, at approximately $2/dose, vaccinating your livestock against anthrax is a worthwhile investment.

Ruminants are highly susceptible to anthrax. When grazing, the ripping motion often brings up dirt which can be infected with spores and result in an infection. Dirt contamination in stored feed can also pose a risk. Two out of four anthrax outbreaks in the last three years occurred in the winter due to contaminated feed. Livestock are more often than not found dead, with bloody discharge from the body openings, without having shown previous signs of disease. However, occasionally symptoms such as staggering, shortness of breath, trembling and convulsions may be seen. If diagnosed early, anthrax can be treated with antibiotics to kill the bacteria, but the antibiotics will not prevent future infection.

The Sterne vaccine is the only licensed vaccine in Canada and is only labelled for use in cattle, sheep, horses, goats and pigs. And remember, vaccines need seven to 10 days to produce immunity, requiring proper planning to ensure livestock are protected. Working with your veterinarian before infection is essential to ensure your herd is protected.

Anthrax is a zoonotic disease and, although uncommon, human infections can occur. Suspiciously dead animals should not be moved or opened as this could result in further spore formation and infection.  Contact your veterinarian immediately if any signs of anthrax are observed or sudden death occurs.  As of April 1, 2013, the Saskatchewan Anthrax Response Plan has been in effect. The Ministry of Agriculture will pay for anthrax testing done at Prairie Diagnostic Services and will provide carcass-side test kits to veterinary clinics in high-risk areas of the province. When anthrax has been confirmed, the premises and animals will be immediately quarantined. The quarantine will be lifted seven days after the last death occurs as long as carcasses are properly disposed of. A provincial inspector or designated representative will visit the site to try to determine the source, to trace animal movement on and off the farm in the last seven days and to provide advice on anthrax control and site cleanup. A second visit will be made to ensure that carcass disposal, cleaning and disinfection have been completed. Costs related to disposal, cleaning, disinfection and any other management procedure to control anthrax are the responsibility of the producer.

Northeast Saskatchewan is considered a high-risk area for anthrax in the province. Frequent flooding and drying can lead to an overload of spores. A survey of local vet clinics provided an estimate of $2/dose for the Sterne vaccine, a relatively cheap alternative to dead livestock or vet bills for treatment. Consult with your local veterinarian on vaccination protocols, including anthrax, for your farm.

For more information about anthrax or anything else related to agriculture, contact your Tisdale Regional Office at 306-878-8842 or visit our website and search ‘anthrax’.

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