Anthrax Outbreak in Texas

Anthrax, a livestock disease not commonly considered an equine ailment, recently caused the death of two horses in Texas. The first cases of anthrax in this outbreak appeared in deer in southwest Texas in mid-June. The disease is endemic in the livestock and wildlife of some Texas counties, but previous outbreaks have not been widespread or produced equine fatalities.

The infected horses were located in Val Verde and Edwards Counties, and there were unconfirmed reports of cases from ranchers who disposed of additional equine carcasses before having them tested. Another suspected recovering anthrax case in Edwards County awaited confirmation at press time. Ranches with confirmed or suspected cases have been quarantined.

"Right now, a lot of deer, cattle, sheep, and goats are dying from anthrax," said Bruce Lawhorn, DVM, a professor at Texas A&M University and veterinarian for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. "Horses are not as susceptible, but can contract anthrax."

The anthrax agent, a resilient spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis, lives in the ground. During drought, livestock forage closer to the ground and ingest spores; they can also be infected by spores in feed grown on infected soil. Spores in standing water after a flood can pose a threat, as can spores from infected carcasses. Anthrax in horses is acute and can last up to 96 hours. If a horse ingests the spores, he is likely to experience septicemia (blood poisoning), fever, colic, and enteritis (small intestine inflammation). A horse might also get the infection when spores enter through an insect bite, causing swellings that spread from the bite location to other parts of the body. Affected horses have a high fever and dyspnea (difficult or labored breathing) due to swelling of the throat. Colic might occur, and the disease can be fatal in horses.

Authorities recommend vaccination of livestock surrounding the infected area. Carcasses of infected animals should be burned to reduce environmental contamination.

Suspected cases of anthrax in Texas should be reported to the Texas Animal Health Commission at 800/550-8242 . More information can be found at

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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