Anthrax claims hundreds of cattle; experts push vaccination
Oct 01, 2005
WASHINGTON — From North Dakota to Texas, cattle have been dying by the hundreds from what some claim is the largest anthrax outbreak on record.
Vaccination is an efficient, effective defense, experts say.
The right soil type and weather conditions allow anthrax to self-perpetuate. This year's scorching heat index and extraordinary amount of rainfall have created the "perfect environment" for anthrax, says Dr. Charles Stoltenow, extension veterinarian for North Dakota State University.
"On the average we estimate we'll see one or two cases a year here," he says. "Now we've had at least 500 animals infected. After the outbreak is over, we're going to try and survey to see just how many animals died."
"I'm sure that in affected areas, they'll start vaccinating again," Stoltenow says. "It's very inexpensive, but if producers don't see anthrax for five years, they think, 'Why do I vaccinate?' Now they're realizing that the only real treatment is prevention."
With 3.7 million head of cattle, State Veterinarian Dr. Sam Holland confirms South Dakota's similar situation.
"There's no question they should be vaccinating, and veterinarians should be reminding producers to do that," he says.
What to expect
While the incubation time for anthrax can last up to seven days, veterinarians might not notice signs of illness aside from sudden death, which even then can be misdiagnosed as a lightening strike.
"Animals ingest anthrax, and they die of shock and septicemia," Stoltenow says. "They tip over and that's it."
Holland suggests quick diagnosis and rapid vaccination.
"You can just shut anthrax off overnight with the right antibiotics and the vaccine. We've had hundreds of thousands of cattle vaccinated since seeing our first case on July 14," he says.
Message to veterinarians
Mass vaccination has occurred, in part, because veterinarians have "done an excellent job" in recognizing anthrax infection, Holland adds.