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The Vets Desk

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Anthrax

Vet Diagnosing a Cow with a Rope through its Nose

What is it?
Anthrax, which is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, is a disease of major veterinary and public health significance. Anthrax is most common in domestic herbivores such as cattle, sheep, and goats which pick up the spores of the bacteria whilst grazing on contaminated pastures, whilst carnivorous species (e.g. dogs) and omnivores (e.g. man) acquire the infection from consumption of contaminated meat of herbivores which have died of the infection. Most human infections follow the handling of carcasses or consumption of raw or undercooked meat from animals that died of anthrax.
Usually, the course of disease in cattle, sheep, and goats is so rapid that illness is not observed. Anthrax, therefore, presents large-scale deaths with no premonitory signs. And in areas where people are tempted to consume the meat of animals that have either died of unknown causes, typically, human anthrax cases are reported first at clinics before the anthrax outbreak is detected by veterinary officials. In dogs, people, horses, and pigs, it is usually less acute although still potentially fatal.

Clinical Signs And Lessons
Carcasses of animals that have died of anthrax classically exhibit dark and thickened (black tarry) blood oozing from the natural body openings. This blood does not clot readily. There is marked bloating and rapid body decomposition of such carcasses. Rigor mortis (stiffening of the carcass after death) is frequently absent or incomplete.
On observing such a carcass, anthrax should be suspected and such a carcass must not be opened as exposure to the air leads to sporulation and unlike the vegetative anthrax cells that are fragile, anthrax spores can remain viable in the soil for decades and they are a potential source of infection for grazing livestock in this area.

Treatment and Control
In enzootic areas, annual vaccination of livestock is recommended to prevent anthrax infections. In the event of an outbreak, in-contact livestock must be given long-acting antibiotics to stop all potential incubating infections from developing. Penicillin is the drug of choice. Antibiotic treatment is followed by vaccination 7 – 10 days afterward. Carcasses of anthrax cases must be burnt or buried deep so that scavengers cannot access the contaminated carcass and spread the infection. Anthrax is a notifiable disease and whenever it is suspected or diagnosed the Department of Veterinary Services must be notified and the area of occurrence will be put under quarantine and vaccinations are done until the outbreak is contained. Any cases of sudden death in livestock should lead to suspicion of anthrax. People should refrain from opening the carcasses of such animals as this leads to contamination of the soil with anthrax spores which remain viable for decades. Furthermore, the handling and consumption of this meat must be discouraged. As a general principle the following practices must be avoided;

  • The emergency slaughter of sick animals.
  • Consumption of meat from animals that have died from sickness.
  • Consumption of meat of uncertain origin.

Dr Brian Fungai Chikodze BVSc, UZ
Disclaimer: Dr Brian Chikodze writes in own personal capacity as a licenced veterinary officer. All views, opinions and recommendations given by Dr Chikodze are given in his own personal capacity and National Foods accepts no responsibility emanating from action that may be taken by anyone based on Dr Chikodze's suggestions and recommendations.





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