Providing practical information to help you protect your farm from biosecurity risks

Be alert for anthrax

February 10, 2014
windmill in dry paddock

Be alert for anthrax in the hot and dry conditions

Hot and dry conditions affecting most of the country so far this summer has prompted a warning from Animal Health Australia Biosecurity Officer, Dr Rob Barwell for livestock producers to be on the lookout for signs of anthrax.

Anthrax is an acute infectious bacterial disease that can affect a wide range of domestic and wild animals, and even humans, which is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

It can affect an animal’s lungs, skin and digestive tract and death often occurs within 24 hours after clinical symptoms are visible. The disease is known to occur in the ‘Anthrax belt’ which stretches from north-west Victoria, through central NSW, to southern-central Queensland.

“The aggressive nature of the disease means the first indication a producer may have that their grazing animals might have anthrax is when they find them dead or dying in the paddock. Blood stained discharges around orifices and non-clotting blood are strong signs that anthrax may be present in stock that die suddenly without much warning or other signs of illness,” Dr Barwell.

“Whilst the prevalence of anthrax in Australia is quite low, the current dry conditions mean animals may be grazing closer to the soil for adequate feed and therefore the risk of infection can be increased. Anthrax spores can survive in the soil for a long time and animals foraging closer to the ground, can ingest or inhale spores that have been previously left undisturbed.”

Dr Barwell said short bursts of rain or soil excavation can also expose anthrax spores.

“Properties that have a previous history of anthrax should be using anthrax vaccination to protect their stock. However, unlike traditional livestock vaccines, the anthrax vaccine is managed and supplied under state legislation and guidelines. Producers looking to vaccinate their stock for anthrax are advised to consult their local state government vet about eligibility and requirements.

“Producers receiving stock from properties located within the known Anthrax Belt are encouraged to quarantine the animals for at least 10 days prior to being introduced to an existing herd,” said Dr Barwell.

Producers that suspect they may have anthrax in their stock or are experiencing sudden, unexplained stock deaths on their properties, should contact their local government veterinary officer immediately or call the Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline 1800 675 888.

Animal Health Australia plays an important role by coordinating Australia’s anthrax vaccine bank which is to be used in the event of a major outbreak. The anthrax vaccine bank is managed out of Sydney by specialist animal health company, Virbac. The vaccine bank has stores of approximately 100,000 doses of the vaccine in the event there is a major outbreak of the disease.