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Weather conditions favourable for anthrax

Weather conditions favourable for anthrax

Livestock can pick up the disease while grazing

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Beef industry experts are warning livestock producers that certain weather conditions could lead to an increased risk of anthrax in cattle herds.

Farmers Western Canada, in particular, should be vigilant this summer, said Reynold Bergen, science director with the Beef Cattle Research Council.

“Anthrax can occur anywhere but it’s most likely to happen when there’s a wet spring and a lot of overland flooding,” he told today. “The flooding can lead to soil erosion, which exposes these bacterial spores and bring them to the surface where cows are most likely to consume them during grazing.”

Anthrax can also be present in two other scenarios.

Dry conditions that prevent grasses from growing pose a risk to livestock because they’re grazing closer to the ground and can easily ingest some bacteria, Bergen said. Digging ditches with excavation equipment can also expose the bacterial spores, he added.

If an animal eats the anthrax bacteria, one particular visual makes a diagnosis simple.

“Anthrax is highly fatal when it does occur,” Bergen said. “A tell-tale sign of the disease is sudden, unexplained death. Cows that were healthy one day are dead the next. Sometimes anthrax is confused with blackleg, but with anthrax the blood doesn’t clot as well, so you might see some bloody discharge from the mouth or the nose.”

Vaccines are available to help prevent the disease.

Producers should contact their veterinarians right away if they suspect an anthrax illness, Bergen said.

“The vaccine is effective, but you have to call your vet right away,” he said. “The cows can die anywhere from a few hours to two days after an infection.”

If an animal succumbs to anthrax, producers should take precautions to ensure no other animals become infected.

Farmers should move the healthy cows to another pasture and cover the carcass with a weighted tarp to keep predators away, Bergen said.

Since infected cows die so quickly, very little chance exists of any contaminated meat entering the food system, he added.

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