The Texas Animal Health commission (TAHC) is confirming the first two cases of anthrax in the state this year, recorded at an exotic game ranch near Barksdale in Edwards County.
Animal health officials say the premises where two sable antelopes died of anthrax is limited to exotic wildlife and cattle are not present on the ranch.
Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and is generally a disease of ungulates, where it is usually rapidly fatal. It is one of the oldest known infectious diseases. Humans can contract anthrax by coming into contact with infected animal carcasses or animal products.
Anthrax spores can cause disease in humans when they are inhaled, are consumed in undercooked meat, or allowed to enter open wounds. In addition to wildlife, several species of domestic animals are also susceptible to the disease including cattle, sheep, goats, horses, pigs, dogs, and cats.
"Anthrax is a bacterial disease more commonly found in the southern part of the state. I am going to say the Bermuda Triangle of anthrax is between Uvalde, Ozona and Eagle Pass but can be found outside that area as well," reports Dr. Pete Fincher, Region 6 Director for the Texas Animal Health Commission in Lampasas.
In 2012 an infection was discovered in sheep in Mertzon southwest of San Angelo, but Fincher warns the disease has the ability to affect all other animals.
"Primarily, the disease will be found in ruminants but it can also infect horses, and pets are also subject to the disease. There is also a human side to that as well, mostly skin infections," Fincher added.
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The Texas Animal Health Commission has issued a quarantine for the property where the antelope were found. The action requires proper disposal of carcasses before the quarantine can be lifted. Animal health officials say burning destroys the causative agent, preventing soil contamination and reducing the chances of future outbreaks.
"The TAHC will continue to closely monitor the situation for possible new cases across the state. Producers are encouraged to consult their veterinary practitioner or local TAHC office if they suspect an anthrax outbreak or if they have questions about the disease or vaccination of livestock," said Dr. T.R. Lansford, TAHC Assistant Executive Director for Animal Health Programs.
Disease can be spread by handling infected animals
Also of concern to animal health officials are carcasses of animals infected with anthrax. Not only can the disease be transferred to the soil from the blood of dead animals where grazing animals may become exposed, but there is a risk of hunters finding and handling carcasses that have succumbed to the disease.
"Normally the effect of anthrax infection is a very rapid death and there may not be any visible signs that caused the death. If hunters should come upon a carcass, they are advised to leave it alone and not to handle it because anthrax can be spread to human subjects as the bacteria can enter the system through any type of abrasion or scratch," Fincher added.
He says good personal hygiene such as washing hands after handling domestic animals or wildlife will help reduce the chance of disease transmission, especially in cases involving anthrax. He adds that it is not uncommon for anthrax to be diagnosed in livestock or wildlife, especially in the southwestern part of the state. Basic sanitation precautions such as washing hands and wearing long sleeves and gloves can prevent accidental spread of the bacteria.
For infected animals that are still alive, officials say acute fever followed by rapid death with bleeding from body openings are all common signs of anthrax in livestock. Carcasses may also appear bloated and decompose quickly. Livestock or animals displaying symptoms consistent with anthrax should be reported to a private veterinary practitioner or TAHC official.
Fincher says it is important to note that the death of the two antelope does not represent an anthrax outbreak in Texas.
"To our knowledge there is not an outbreak of the disease in Texas. Anthrax is a reportable disease and normally the Texas Animal Health Commission is notified immediately after an animal is found where anthrax infection is suspected," he added.
He says TAHC advises veterinarians and livestock producers not to open the carcass or conduct post mortem analysis of an animal believed to have contracted the bacteria.
"In cases involving anthrax or where anthrax is suspected we ask that a blood sample be taken and submitted to the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory for further examination."
For more information regarding Anthrax, contact your local TAHC region or call 1-800-550-8242 or visit www.tahc.texas.gov.
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