Anthrax detected in northern Alberta

Two cases confirmed from two separate beef cattle farms in the Fort Vermillion area

Recent hot, dry weather has resulted in prime conditions for anthrax to develop.
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Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has been notified of confirmed cases of anthrax in two separate beef cattle farms in the Fort Vermillion area. Given these findings and recently confirmed cases in Saskatchewan, producers are reminded to be on the look-out for anthrax. The recent hot, dry weather has led to conditions that are favourable for the exposure of livestock to anthrax. A few sporadic cases of anthrax are reported in western Canada nearly every year, typically between the months of July and mid-September, usually following periods of hot weather.

Anthrax is a contagious and infectious soil-borne disease caused by spore-forming bacteria that can infect mammals, primarily herbivores, resulting in the rapid onset of severe disease within a few hours.

Anthrax is a federally reportable and provincially notifiable disease in Alberta. The Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian (OCPV) with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry will assist with diagnosing the disease and will work with your private veterinarian to help manage the case.

If you suspect an animal might have anthrax or have a sudden, unexplained death of an animal:

  • Call your veterinarian immediately. Getting a prompt and accurate diagnosis will assist in preventing the spread of the disease within your herd and to other herds.
  • Remove surviving animals from the pasture.
  • Do not move dead animals, and do not call for deadstock pick-up.
  • Try to prevent scavenging of carcasses by covering them with a secured tarp or heavy-duty plastic. Stake the edges to secure the plastic or tarp.

If there is suspicion of anthrax, your veterinarian will collect the appropriate samples and send them for testing. After samples are collected, obtain and follow the veterinarian’s instructions regarding deadstock disposal. Proper disposal is very important to limit the spread and recurrence of anthrax. Natural disposal and deadstock pickup both increase the risk of future anthrax outbreaks by spreading the spores over a wider area.

Although animal cases pose minimal risk to humans, caution should be exercised when handling animals or carcasses suspected of having anthrax. Humans can become infected by direct or indirect contact with infected animals or carcasses, or exposure to infected or contaminated animal products. This can lead to serious disease, complications and potentially even death. Contact your local Public Health Office if you have handled infectious animals or animal products for assistance in determining the risk of anthrax and the need for interventions like antibiotics, if necessary. If you think that you are actually infected or sick with anthrax, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

In animals, anthrax can be prevented by vaccinating susceptible animals. Talk to your veterinarian about vaccination, as he/she can assist you in making a decision whether it is appropriate based on the risk of disease in your area.

More information on anthrax can be found at the links below:

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