North Dakota Urges Livestock Anthrax Prevention

Livestock producers in areas with a history of anthrax cases should take measures to protect their animals from the disease, North Dakota animal health officials advise.

"We have just received confirmation of a case of anthrax in cattle along the Hettinger-Slope County line, the first reported in that area in many years and the first confirmed case in the state this year," said Susan Keller, DVM, state veterinarian. "Keep in mind that while anthrax has been most frequently reported in northeast, southeast, and south-central North Dakota, it has been found in almost every part of the state."

North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian Charlie Stoltenow, DVM, Dipl. ACVPM, also urges producers to get their livestock vaccinated. Anthrax vaccine is effective and available, but it takes about a week to establish immunity, and it must be administered annually.

"Producers should check with their veterinarians to make sure the vaccination schedule for their animals is adequate and maintained," Keller said. "Producers should also monitor their herds for unexpected deaths and report them to their veterinarians."

Anthrax is a concern because it can be a long-term problem. Spores of the bacteria that cause it can survive in the soil for many decades, Stoltenow said.

Cases of anthrax develop in the region almost every year. However, favorable weather conditions, such as heavy rainfall, flooding, or drought, might make the disease more widespread. Rain and flooding can raise the spores to the ground’s surface. Drought conditions can lead to soil erosion, which also allows spores to resurface. When animals graze or consume forage or water contaminated with the spores, they are exposed to the disease.

"With the weather we have had, conditions are right for anthrax to show up," Keller said.

An outbreak in 2005 in the upper Midwest and Manitoba demonstrated the danger of anthrax to grazing animals. Animal health officials estimate North Dakota lost more than 1,000 head of cattle, bison, horses, sheep, llamas and farmed deer, and elk.

"An extensive educational effort by veterinarians and Extension agents to encourage producers to vaccinate their animals has resulted in a dramatic reduction in livestock deaths," Keller said.

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