Canadian Anthrax Outbreak Worst on Record

Saskatchewan, Canada, is experiencing its worst anthrax year on record. Animal health authorities have quarantined more than 86 premises in Saskatchewan for suspected anthrax contamination and have deemed 409 animal deaths (including one horse) suspicious as of July 31, according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

On July 6, Saskatchewan Agriculture officials issued a bulletin warning farmers in the area about the disease, and encouraging them to vaccinate their animals. Last year, there were no cases of anthrax confirmed in the area, and only 10 cases were confirmed in all of Canada.

Sandra Stephens, DVM, a veterinary program specialist with the CFIA, said in the bulletin that she expects the number of cases 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.

Anthrax is zoonotic disease--meaning it can be transmitted to humans by spores from infected animals or animal products--caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The spores are highly resistant to harsh weather, so B. anthracis 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 affected, quarantined farms 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 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 treated early in the course of the disease.

The disease has also been detected in the United States this year. Health officials have quarantined premises in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Texas. Animal health officials have urged livestock owners to not move any animal carcass suspected of anthrax infection.

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for .

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