Canadian Anthrax Outbreak Worst on Record

Saskatchewan, Canada, is experiencing its worst anthrax year on record. Animal health authorities have quarantined more than 28 premises in Saskatchewan for suspected anthrax contamination and have deemed 113 cattle deaths suspicious as of July 12.

On July 6, Saskatchewan Agriculture officials issued a bulletin warning farmers in the area to keep an eye out for the disease, and encouraging them to vaccinate their animals. To make matters worse, veterinarians are facing a localized anthrax vaccine shortage, according to a Star Phoenix article.

Sandra Stephens, DVM, a veterinary program specialist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said in the article, "It would appear, at this point, we probably have more premises involved than we've had in previous cases of anthrax in Saskatchewan." She expects that number to grow throughout the summer.

More than 7,000 doses of anthrax vaccine were administered following the bulletin, quickly depleting the area's supply and forcing some cattle owners to nervously await another shipment of 6,500 doses from a Calgary distribution center. The shipment is expected later this week.

"This is an area that doesn't typically see anthrax, so veterinarians don't typically have it in stock," Stephens explained. Last year, there were no cases of anthrax confirmed in the area, and only 10 cases were confirmed in all of Canada.
Anthrax is zoonotic disease--meaning it can be transmitted to humans by an infected animal or animal product--caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis or its spores. The spores are highly resistant to harsh weather conditions, so the bacteria can survive in the soil for years. Anthrax naturally occurs in grazing animals (cattle, sheep, and goats), but virtually all mammals, including horses, can contract this disease.
Most of the farms under the 30-day quarantines raise cattle, but other premises housing horse, swine, bison, and white-tailed deer have also been quarantined. Although anthrax is not as common in horses, those that ingest spores usually develop a very high fever and show signs of colic and/ or diarrhea. They might also develop difficulty breathing (dyspnea) and can develop swelling on the underside of the neck and chest. Treatment (fluids, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory medications) can be successful, but anthrax is usually fatal to horses if not treat early in the course of the disease.
Anthrax outbreaks often occur following heavy rains, which can push long-hidden spores into new, more accessible grazing locations, or drought, when animals graze closer to the contaminated soil.
The disease has also been detected in the United States this year. Heavy rains during drought conditions were blamed for a captive deer contracting anthrax on a farm in Val Verde County, Texas. Last month, a North Dakota ranch was quarantined after two cattle tested positive for anthrax ( Additionally, earlier this year, a Pennsylvania man was diagnosed with anthrax. Officials from the Centers for Disease Control believe the man inhaled spores from animal hides he had used to make drums.

Animal health officials have urged livestock owners to not move any animal carcass suspected of anthrax infection. This will help prevent spreading spores in the environment, and suggested disposal methods include burning and/or burial. In Canada, the disease is reportable to the federal government, whereas in the United States, state animal health authorities generally keep track of livestock anthrax cases.

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for .

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