Author: 800 CHAB News / Sask Ag and Food

Officials at Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food are warning farmers in wet areas of the province to be on the lookout for signs of anthrax in their livestock. There have been several cases already reported in the province.

Anthrax is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, which is commonly found in alkaline soil. The bacteria can grow rapidly under wet soil conditions and then form spores when the soil dries. Changes in soil moisture, from flooding and drying, can lead to a build-up of the spores on pastures. Spores can also surface when the ground is cultivated or when there is excessive run-off.

Livestock are infected when they eat forage contaminated with spores and the bacteria can enter the bloodstream through small abrasions in the mouth.  Cattle, sheep, goats and horses are highly susceptible. Swine, birds and carnivores are more resistant to infection, but farm dogs and cats should be kept away from carcasses.

Affected animals are usually found dead without any signs of illness.  Typically, the carcass shows rapid decomposition and there is bleeding from the body openings. Affected animals in the herd may show weakness, laboured breathing, fever, depression and a lack of co-ordination.

The carcass of any animal suspected of having anthrax should not be moved or disturbed to prevent spreading spores in the environment. Anthrax is a federally reportable disease and anyone who suspects anthrax must contact their local veterinarian immediately.

Producers are advised to use caution when handling potentially infected animals, as the spores do pose a rare human health risk. In cases where people believe they have been exposed to an infected animal, they should contact their local health authority or physician for advice.