As of April 1, 2013, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) stopped responding to cases of anthrax. Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) have established a provincial anthrax response plan to assist affected producers so that animal and public health are protected. ARD will respond by (1) providing assistance in diagnosing the disease and (2) working with your private veterinarian to provide advice on how to protect your herd and prevent spread of the disease to other herds and animals. Anthrax remains a federally reportable disease and a provincially notifiable disease; therefore, veterinarians will report all suspect and confirmed cases of anthrax to the CFIA and Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian within 24 hours.
What is Anthrax?
Anthrax is a naturally occurring disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. When exposed to air, the bacteria form inactive spores that can survive in the soil for years. Animals become infected when they consume spore contaminated soil, feed or water. The inactive spores germinate into active bacteria in the animal and then cause disease and often rapid death.
Why is it Important?
Anthrax can affect both animal health and human health. It primarily affects herbivores, such as cattle, bison, sheep, goats and horses. Pigs and carnivores (dogs & cats) are less susceptible. The disease is fatal in herbivores. Humans are also susceptible to anthrax. Humans can become infected by direct or indirect contact with infected animals or carcasses, or exposure to infected or contaminated animal products.
What Does Anthrax Look Like?
Anthrax can be a rapid, fatal disease that kills animals within hours, typically livestock are found dead on pasture. Most anthrax outbreaks in recent history have been recorded in beef cattle and bison, however, anthrax can also occur in dairy cattle, sheep and goats. A few sporadic cases of anthrax are reported in western Canada nearly every year, typically between the months of July to September and usually following periods of hot and dry or hot and wet weather.
What do You do When You Suspect You Might Have Anthrax?
- CALL YOUR VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY.
- Remove surviving animals from the pasture and monitor them for signs of illness.
- DO NOT move dead animals, and DO NOT call for dead stock pick-up.
- Cover the carcass and protect it to prevent scavenging of carcasses.
If there is any suspicion of anthrax, your herd veterinarian will draw a blood sample from a dead animal rather than doing a post-mortem exam, since this could cause more soil contamination. The veterinarian will then send the samples for testing.
After sample(s) are collected, obtain and follow the veterinarian's instructions regarding dead stock disposal. Proper disposal is very important to limit the spread and recurrence of anthrax. Natural disposal, scavenging and dead stock pick-up both increase the risk of future anthrax outbreaks by spreading the spores over a wider area.
How do I Prevent This Disease in My Herd?
Talk to your veterinarian about vaccination. They will assist you in making a decision whether vaccination is appropriate based on the risk of disease in your area.
If you have any questions, please contact the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian; 780-427-3448.