Anthrax confirmed in death in North Dakota cattle herd

The case, in Kidder County, was confirmed earlier this week by the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

North Dakota cattle producers should consider whether their herds are at risk of anthrax and talk to their veterinarians about vaccination options. The first bovine anthrax death of 2021 has been confirmed in Kidder County. Kallie Jo Coates / Grand Vale Creative LLC

BISMARCK, North Dakota — North Dakota’s state veterinarian says the state’s first reported case of anthrax this year is a reminder to livestock producers to take action to protect their animals from the disease, especially in areas with a past history of the disease.

The case, in Kidder County , was confirmed earlier this week by the North Dakota State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

“Producers in past known affected areas and counties should consult with their veterinarians to make sure the vaccination schedule for their animals is current. Producers in Kidder County and surrounding areas should confer with their veterinarians to determine if initiating first-time vaccinations against anthrax is warranted for their cattle at this time,” Dr. Ethan Andress said.

Effective anthrax vaccines are readily available, but it takes about a week for immunity to be established, and it must be administered annually for continued protection. Producers should monitor their herds for unexplained deaths and work with their veterinarian to ensure appropriate samples are collected and submitted to a diagnostic lab to give the best chance of obtaining a diagnosis.

Anthrax is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, a bacteria occurring worldwide that is associated with sudden death of cattle and sheep. The bacterial spores can lie dormant in the ground for decades and become active under ideal conditions, such as heavy rainfall, flooding and drought. Anthrax can infect all warm-blooded animals, including humans. Animals are exposed to the disease when they graze or consume forage or water contaminated with the spores.


According to an anthrax fact sheet from NDSU Extension veterinarian Charles Stoltenow , outbreaks typically occur when livestock are grazing on neutral or slightly alkaline soil. Infection in animals usually is the result of grazing on infected pastureland. Other sources of infection include through blood-sucking or biting insects that previously visited the carcass of an infected animal and through hay, though anthrax rarely is diagnosed in North Dakota in the winter.

The fact sheet also provides instructions on disposal of carcasses of animals infected with anthrax, as infected carcasses can infect soil.

“Anthrax has been most frequently reported in northeast, southeast and south-central North Dakota, but it has been found in almost every part of the state,” Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. “A few anthrax cases are reported in North Dakota almost every year. The animals impacted included cattle, bison, horses, sheep, llamas and farmed deer and elk.”

Two cases of anthrax were reported in North Dakota in 2020. In 2005, however, more than 500 confirmed deaths from anthrax were reported with total losses estimated at more than 1,000 head.

For more on anthrax in North Dakota, visit .

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