Anthrax confirmed in Jim Wells County cow

Health officials say it is not unusual for livestock and select other farm animals to contract anthrax.

The first case of anthrax in a cow this year has been confirmed in South Texas, the first case in Jim Wells County in over 50 years. Texas Animal Health Commission officials say the cow was discovered on a ranch 10 miles north of Premont.

State animal health care officials are inspecting the case and the premises and taking precautions against the spread of what appears to be an isolated case. Health officials say it is not unusual for livestock and select other farm animals to contract the disease. The premises has been quarantined and other animals are receiving anthrax vaccinations to limit the chances of spreading the disease.

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Anthrax is a bacterial disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a naturally occurring organism. Anthrax, a zoonotic disease, primarily occurs in domesticated animals, typically herbivores. Humans can become infected through contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products. A vaccine is available for use in susceptible livestock but rarely administered except following multiple cases in a specific area.

Once detected and confirmed, acute fever followed by rapid death with bleeding from body openings are common signs of anthrax in livestock. Carcasses may appear bloated and decompose quickly after death.  Livestock displaying symptoms consistent with Anthrax should be reported to a private veterinary practitioner or a TAHC official.

If affected livestock or carcasses must be handled, producers are encouraged to follow basic sanitation precautions such as wearing protective gloves and long-sleeved shirts and washing thoroughly afterward to prevent accidental spread of the bacteria.

 

Microbes and vaccines

Anthrax is intertwined with the origins of modern microbiology and immunology and was the first disease in history proven to be caused by a microbe. A French bacteriologist first observed the presence of anthrax bacilli in infected sheep's blood in 1863. In 1881, Louis Pasteur successfully produced a vaccine to protect livestock against anthrax, the first effective live bacterial vaccine to be developed.

While anthrax infection in humans has long been known, in modern times it is generally limited to individuals who handle animals regularly, specifically livestock, and those who work with animal carcasses. The most widespread cases involving large numbers of human victims have been related to processing livestock, specifically handling hides, as in the case of mill workers.

During the 1950s, clinical trials on the anthrax vaccine were conducted in the United States. This controlled field study involved workers in four mills in the northeast that processed imported animal hides. But it wasn't until 1970 that a human anthrax vaccine was first licensed in the United States. Since then, the anthrax vaccine has been safely administered to at-risk wool mill workers, veterinarians, laboratory workers, livestock handlers, and members of the United States military.

Anthrax is an endemic cause of human and animal illness in practically all countries. But the threat of anthrax in humans in the U.S. has been greatly reduced since the development of vaccines for livestock and federal regulations that require better ventilation systems in mill operations. No cases of human anthrax were reported in the U.S. between 1992 and 2000, an indication that safeguards and vaccines are making a positive impact on health risks associated with the disease.

Anthrax is still endemic in many developing countries, however, especially where livestock is subject to limited veterinary control. From the 1960s to the 1990s, anthrax cases among animals have been recorded in 27 European countries, more than 20 Asian countries, more than 20 African countries, and in Australia.  In the New World, anthrax has been reported in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela and many others countries. Limited cases of animal anthrax in the United States occur in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

In Texas, most anthrax cases are limited to a triangular area bounded by the towns of Uvalde, Ozona and Eagle Pass. This area includes portions of Crockett, Val Verde, Sutton, Edwards, Kinney and Maverick counties.

Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) rules require proper disposal of affected carcasses and vaccination of livestock on the premises prior to release of the quarantine.

 "The TAHC will continue to work cooperatively with local veterinary practitioners and livestock producers to monitor … for possible new cases across the state. Producers are encouraged to consult their veterinary practitioner or local TAHC office if they have questions about the disease," said Dr. T.R. Lansford, TAHC Assistant Executive Director for Animal Health Programs.

For more information regarding Anthrax, contact your local TAHC region or call

1-800-550-8242 or visit www.tahc.texas.gov. To learn more about Anthrax, visit the TAHC's brochure.

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