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Anthrax strikes two cattle operations near Fort Vermilion

If an animal dies suddenly on your property, 
do not move it and call a veterinarian for a diagnosis

Anthrax has surfaced in Alberta, killing about 10 cattle on two separate operations in the Fort Vermilion area.

This follows the death of two bison that died in North Battleford, Sask. and producers are being warned to be on the lookout for anthrax, due to the hot, dry conditions.

The disease is not new to Alberta but rare.

“I’ve been here 24 years and this is the third year that I’ve seen anthrax,” said Dr. Wendy Quist, veterinarian with Frontier Vet Services in Fort Vermilion.

“Anthrax looks like many other things that cause sudden death, so if producers have sudden death in their herd, they probably should be contacting their veterinarian to get a diagnosis.

“Too many times, I have calls from people weeks later, wondering why an animal died. They probably should be calling a veterinarian as soon as possible.”

Anthrax is a bacteria that is in soil in many areas. Under certain conditions, such as drought or high temperatures, there is a greater risk for the bacteria to become infective.

Overgrazing, fresh raking, and areas that have been dug can expose cattle to fresh soil, which may contain anthrax, said Quist.

“Combine that with some drought and the risk is much greater,” she said.

When cattle ingest anthrax, they will die almost immediately and appear bloated, with blood coming out of their mouths and anuses. If anthrax is suspected, do not open the carcass, as this can spread bacteria and further contaminate the pasture. Anthrax is also transmissible to humans.

“Be aware that the discharges from the carcass could be infectious to humans,” said Quist. “People should be practising proper biosecurity and should be wearing gloves and being careful about handling tissue.”

Other animals should be removed from the pasture, and a tarp should be placed over the dead animal to prevent scavenging of the carcass. The edges of the tarp should be staked to the ground. Producers should not remove the dead animal, and should not call for deadstock pickup. After the vet takes samples, the carcass should be allowed to rot for a few days, so some of the bacteria are killed before it is buried or burned.

“Burned is preferable, but a lot of times, these things happen when we’re on a fire ban or have high fire hazards and it’s not practical,” said Quist.

Individual producers in areas of high risk or have known cases of anthrax can get a vaccine for their animals.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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