Anthrax Confirmed in Texas Hill Country

Anthrax is a bacterial disease that is naturally occurring with worldwide distribution, including Texas. Anthrax tends to be diagnosed in livestock, white-tailed deer and other wildlife species, and is typically document during the summertime in Texas. Anthrax is usually detected in the Southwest part of the state, but the most recent cases of the disease have been primarily confined to a triangular area bounded by the towns of Uvalde, Ozona and Eagle Pass. Unfortunately, however, anthrax has recently been confirmed in the Texas Hill Country, but currently it has not been documented in deer or wildlife.

The first case of anthrax in Texas livestock for 2011 has been detected on a ranch in Hill County near Whitney. The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) has quarantined the premise after one cow tested positive for the reportable disease. The initial anthrax case is somewhat unusual as it was detected earlier in the year than normal – and in a different part of the state than is normally expected. There have been no previous cases of anthrax in livestock reported in the Hill County until now.

Dr. Max Dow, TAHC Region 3 Director in Fort Worth stated, “Specimens were submitted to the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) by the producer’s veterinary practitioner, following suspicions that were raised during a post mortem examination.” TAHC regulations require vaccination of susceptible livestock on quarantined premises, as well as the proper disposal of affected carcasses. Quarantines are usually released by the TAHC 10 days after all requirements have been completed for disposal and vaccination. Dr. Dee Ellis, TAHC Executive Director, said:

“It is possible that the dry conditions that much of Texas’ habitat is enduring may have caused the first case of the year to be found earlier than normal, and/or in a somewhat unusual location. The TAHC will continue to closely monitor the situation for possible new cases across the state. In the meantime, producers should consult with their veterinary practitioner or local TAHC office about the disease in general, and whether vaccination needs to be considered for their animals.”

If an animal dies from the disease and is not properly disposed of by burning, the bacteria that causes anthrax can spill out into the soil and remain dormant for long periods of time. The anthrax bacteria may resurface on grass or forage under ideal weather and soil conditions during spring and summer months, which could then be ingested by domestic or wild animals. Symptoms of anthrax in livestock and deer can be non-specific including high fever or convulsions, or in many cases acute death is the first sign noticed by producers or individuals involved in deer management program.

TAHC regulations require that not only the animal carcasses be
disposed of by incineration until “thoroughly consumed,” but any contaminated manure and/or bedding as well. This requirement keeps wild animals from being exposed to the disease, and it will also kill the bacteria, possibly preventing another site from being contaminated with anthrax. Again, anthrax is caused by a naturally occurring bacteria, and outbreaks of this disease tend to occur under very dry habitat conditions. Let’s hope it rains.

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