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Anthrax pops up in Kittson County

By Anna Jauhola
It has been more than a decade since anthrax was last detected in Minnesota livestock.
The bacterial infection materialized recently and was confirmed late last week in a Kittson County cattle herd.
On Friday, July 7, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) released that “multiple cattle and a horse” were affected by the bacteria. This means those animals died, according to Dr. Katie Cornille, a senior veterinarian with the Board of Animal Health.
“The number of animals isn’t necessarily important to know,” Cornille said Monday afternoon, July 10. “What is important to know is that people in that area are aware anthrax was found in animals, that anthrax exists naturally in the soil.”
According to a BAH press release, anthrax is caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis, which can emerge in greater concentrations after rainstorms, flooding or excavation. It last occurred in June 2013 in Pennington County. The disease has been concentrated in northwest Minnesota in the past. Cornille said this can include when cattle are grazing and root up the ground, which releases the spores.
An area BAH veterinarian visited the affected pasture and cattle producer’s location, and took a sample. Cornille said the veterinarian collected a group of samples to submit because “it is not cost effective to sample all the animals. We use those results to make a medical judgment about any other cases.”
While Cornille said she would not divulge the number of animals that died, out of respect for the producer, she said death is usually the first sign of the disease in animals that contract anthrax. If it is caught early, signs include high fever, muscle tremors, labored breathing and failure of blood to clot in wounds.
The affected property has been quarantined, Cornille continued, noting the quarantine lasts 30 days after the last animal death.
“This gives sufficient time to do any disposal or decontamination that needs to occur,” she said. “Then the exposed animals can be vaccinated or treated.”
The deceased animals in this instance were incinerated on site. This ensures the pathogen is destroyed. The Board of Animal Health works with state, county and local partners to perform decontamination, Cornille said.
Preventive measures are the most effective, which primarily includes vaccination, she added.

When there are multiple unexplained animal deaths, a producer calls their veterinarian who determines whether anthrax is a potential cause. If a test comes back positive, they are required to report it to the BAH, which initiates an investigation.
Anthrax in animals typically occurs in summer and affects livestock grazing on pasture, especially ruminants like cattle, sheep, and goats, according to the BAH release. Most animals die from the disease before showing any signs, so it’s important to have a veterinarian examine animals that die suddenly or are found dead on pasture. If anthrax is suspected, veterinarians should avoid performing a field necropsy to prevent spore formation and contamination. Spores can survive in soil for many years, endangering other animals.
While the board cannot make a producer vaccinate their livestock, Cornille said they strongly recommend it, provide guidance based on research and guide them to work with their veterinarian. Typically, vaccination against anthrax is a widely accepted preventive measure.
In this instance, “The recommended protocol was implemented by the attending veterinarian,” Cornille said. “Our main communication is we don’t see this as a public health issue at this time.”
Anthrax in animals is not a risk to the public, according to the BAH press release. The disease is spread through contact with affected animals or their products. Although the risk is low, people who have had contact with animals that have died of anthrax should consult their healthcare provider or the Minnesota Department of Health.

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