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Published May 31, 2010, 01:12 PM

Anthrax: Prepare, don’t panic

Anthrax might be one of the scariest words in the English languge, but livestock producers shouldn’t be overly worried if they take proper precautions, experts say.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Anthrax might be one of the scariest words in the English languge, but livestock producers shouldn’t be overly worried if they take proper precautions, experts say.

A case of anthrax occurred in May in Sioux County in south-central North Dakota.

Though the disease can be deadly, “the vaccine is efficacious and cheap,” says Susan Keller, North Dakota state veterinarian.

One dose of the vaccine typically costs less than $1, says Dr. Pat Bierman, a vet with the Mandan (N.D.) Veterinary Clinic who’s been working with producers in Sioux County.

He and Keller recommend that area livestock producers consider having their animals vaccinated against anthrax, particularly if they’re in an area where the disease has popped up in the past few years.

Producers should contact their local vet for more information.

Many producers in the region already have vaccinated their animals against the disease, but vaccination isn’t common in areas where the disease doesn’t have a history, Keller says.

Bierman says many producers in his immediate area haven’t vaccinated against anthrax.

Other cattle in the Sioux Cattle herd in which anthrax struck have been vaccinated, and surrounding ranchers will vaccinate their animals, too, he says.

A little background from the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the North Dakota State University Extension Service:

n Anthrax is caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

n The disease — usually fatal with no observable symptoms — is rare in the United States, although cases occur in the region almost every year. Its spores can remain dormant in the soil for years until becoming active, usually after drought, flooding or wet weather.

The pasture in which the Sioux County case occurred has been wet and was flooded by the Missouri River, Bierman says.

n Typically, anthrax in the region occurs in mid-summer. Having it occur in the spring is unusual, he says.

n Carcasses should be burned to ashes or, if that’s not possible, buried as deeply as possible.

n Anthrax also is a risk to people, so anyone who will come in contact with carcasses should wear rubber gloves and other protective clothing.

More information on disposing on carcasses and personal protection, as well as on anthrax in general, can be found at www.ag.ndsu.edu/cattledocs.

It’s important to remember that anthrax found in soil, while potentially deadly, is nowhere near as dangerous as anthrax designed to be a biological weapon, Bierman says.

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