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Anthrax infection confirmed in Uvalde and Val Verde Counties

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Laboratory results have confirmed that anthrax infection killed three animals -- a cow, kudu and a whitetail deer -- on three premises in Uvalde and Val Verde Counties in Southwest Texas.

Anthrax, caused by the spore-forming Bacillus anthracis bacteria, can remain dormant in soil for years, but may become vegetative after periods of wet, cool weather, followed by weeks of hot and dry conditions. Animals become infected when they ingest the invisible bacteria as they graze.

“Ranchers in the Uvalde and Val Verde County area are no strangers to naturally occurring anthrax, and this notice should not raise undue concern to producers, vacationers or hunters,” said Dr. Bob Hillman, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission, the state’s livestock and poultry health regulatory agency.

“Anthrax is a very old disease and occurs worldwide. Wherever an infected animal dies, the ground becomes contaminated with the spores, unless the carcass and soil are burned with a very hot fire. The spores do not spread underground, so it’s common to see death losses in one pasture, but not across the fence,” he said.

TAHC regulations require that the affected animal’s bedding, its carcass, and nearby manure be burned with wood or gasoline (tires and oil create too much pollution), to cleanse the ground, Hillman said. The livestock on the premises must then be vaccinated and held under quarantine for a short time, to ensure that anthrax-exposed animals are not moved.

“We know that anthrax is under-reported, because some ranchers find the dead, bloated or bloody animals and take immediate action on their own, disposing of the carcass and vaccinating livestock, without notifying their private veterinary practitioner,” said Dr. Hillman. “This disease, however, is reportable in Texas. While laboratory tests, conducted by the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station, are needed to confirm infection, suspected cases also are to be called in to the TAHC at 1-800-550-8242.”

“We recommend the producers consult their private veterinary practitioners about vaccinating livestock, if they have livestock in the area where anthrax infection most often occurs, including Crockett, Val Verde, Sutton, Edwards, Kinney, Uvalde and Maverick counties,” said Dr. Hillman. “Because we’ve had confirmed cases in the past in Terrell, Webb and Starr Counties, owners in this area also should keep watch and may want to consider vaccination, too.

“One of the unanswered challenges is finding a way to effectively deliver anthrax vaccine to grazing wildlife, which cannot be herded through a chute to be given an injection.”

He said deer owners in these counties should check with their private veterinary practitioner or the TAHC, prior to collecting brain tissue from dead deer for routine chronic wasting disease surveillance. “CWD has not been detected in Texas, and in some cases, we may want to avoid opening carcasses of dead deer with signs of anthrax. Producers in the CWD program, however, are to report death losses," he said.

Dr. Hillman urged anyone handling or burning carcasses, or vaccinating livestock against anthrax to wear long sleeves and gloves to prevent potential disease exposure. He said skin anthrax, although rare, can cause a nasty, black sore that requires medical attention and antibiotics.

General sanitation procedures should be followed after handling livestock, and equipment used on the animals should be disinfected. Pets should be kept away from dead carcasses or bones of dead animals, which pose a disease risk. Healthy animals should be moved from anthrax-contaminated areas.

“Hunters and campers often ask about dangers posed by naturally occurring anthrax. We advise visitors to avoid dead animals, urge them not to swim in creeks or tanks where dead animals have been seen, and not to pick up shed antlers or old animal bones. By the time hunting season starts, cool weather usually puts an end to cases,” said Dr. Hillman.

“When hunting, always shoot only healthy-looking animals. By the time an animal displays signs of anthrax, such as staggering, trembling or convulsions, death is inevitable.” He also said hunters and campers should talk to their physician, if they develop an unexplained sore on their hands or arms after an outing.

Dr. Hillman cited several actions that should be taken during an anthrax outbreak:

  • Properly dispose of animal carcasses by burning to prevent exposure to other animals, such as predators or dogs.
  • Remove healthy livestock from the area.
  • Vaccinate livestock if cases occur in the surrounding areas. Because the anthrax vaccine is a “live” vaccine, it should not be administered concurrently with antibiotics. Vaccinated animals are to be withheld from slaughter for two months.
  • Restrict movement of livestock from an affected premise until animals can develop immunity through vaccination.
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