Anthrax in animals
Update 27 February 2015 - from the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR)
A dairy cow died from the disease anthrax in February 2015 in the Tatura region of the Goulburn Valley.
We are urging farmers and those working with livestock to be vigilant. Any suspected cases should be reported to the 24-hour Emergency Animal Diseases Hotline on 1800 675 888 or to a local vet.
Local farmers, veterinarians and DEDJTR are well prepared to handle these incidents and this isolated case was detected as part of the ongoing surveillance for anthrax and other diseases.
Anthrax and the vaccination against anthrax pose no threat to meat or milk, Victoria has a strong and robust food safety system in place to protect consumers and help maintain trade, such as the observance of withholding periods and the pasteurisation of all milk.
The below information note contains background information on anthrax in animals.
Note Number: AG0802
Published: January 2003
Updated: July 2015
The following information has been put together for the benefit of the general public wanting to gain a greater understanding of Anthrax in animals. It explains a little about the history of the disease in Australia, it signs and occurrence, and Victoria's prevention and control methods.
What is the history of anthrax in Australia?
Anthrax has been recognised in Australia for over 150 years as a cause of sudden death in farm animals, particularly sheep and cattle. The spore-forming bacteria Bacillus anthracis, which causes the disease, was probably introduced into Australia in the early 1880s by contaminated fertiliser imported from the Indian sub-continent. Prior to the availability of an effective vaccine, anthrax was a major cause of mortalities in sheep and cattle and was widely spread in pastoral areas by travelling livestock. Spores of Bacillus anthracis can lie dormant in the soil for decades and are capable of infecting animals which graze on contaminated areas.
Where does anthrax occur?
Anthrax is well known to occur at irregular intervals in grazing livestock in the pastoral areas of NSW, Northern Victoria and Gippsland, where anthrax spores are able to persist in soils.
Irrespective of where they are located in Victoria, livestock owners are encouraged to report unexplained, sudden deaths of livestock to DEDJTR or their veterinarian.
What are the signs of infection in livestock?
Cattle and sheep with anthrax die suddenly. Just prior to death, animals may show signs of high fever. Blood may be present around the nose, mouth and anus of carcasses, although many affected carcasses do not display these signs. If livestock die suddenly, even when there is no history of anthrax on the property, anthrax could potentially be the cause. To prevent a large scale anthrax incident, it is critically important that the carcasses of cattle and sheep that die suddenly without there being an obvious cause are tested for anthrax before they are moved.
What action is taken if anthrax is suspected?
The owner, or their veterinarian, must report the case to DEDJTR staff without delay. Movement of animals and animal products from the farm is suspended.
DEDJTR will pay $1,000 where a producer suspects anthrax, calls DEDJTR or his/her local veterinary practitioner requesting an anthrax test on a carcass that has not been moved, and the animal is found to have died of anthrax.
Appropriate samples are collected and tested on farm using the hand-held immunochromatographic test (ICT) with results available within 15 minutes. Further testing may be carried out at a laboratory. This can take 12 - 24 hours. This testing will be carried out at no cost to the farmer.
If the case occurs on a dairy farm, the dairy factory is advised. Relevant food safety and public health agencies are also routinely notified.
What action is taken on confirmation?
Where a case of anthrax is confirmed after veterinary examination of affected animals and laboratory testing of samples, the affected property is quarantined, potentially exposed stock are vaccinated, dead animals burnt and contaminated sites disinfected.
The quarantine is not released until at least 20 days have elapsed since any anthrax cases have occurred and at least 20 days have passed since the last round of vaccination on the property.
DEDJTR staff liaise with knackeries, local veterinary practitioners, dairy industry, health authorities, local government and regional emergency services staff.
When does anthrax occur?
Anthrax can occur at any time of the year. Over the past decade it has occurred most commonly during the summer months. Usually isolated cases are reported and quarantine and vaccination measures prevent further cases. Occasionally, a larger scale outbreak occurs, such as that involving dairy cattle and other animals in the summer of early 1997 in the Tatura district of Victoria. Such outbreaks are controlled by vaccination across a wider area.
What measures are taken by DEDJTR to prepare for an outbreak?
DEDJTR maintains a 24-hour, 365 days/year emergency contact service (1800 675 888) to allow reports to be quickly actioned. DEDJTR has comprehensive policy and operational procedures for the management of anthrax, which cover notification, quarantine, disinfection, disposal of carcase and products, surveillance and vaccination. Australian veterinary authorities maintain emergency plans, based on AUSVETPLAN, for the control of a large-scale anthrax outbreak. These plans include collaborative arrangements with a range of government authorities and industry organisations.
The measures taken in Australia to deal with occurrences of anthrax in farm animals are well developed and designed to limit and control disease outbreaks, protect domestic and export markets for livestock and their products, and safeguard public health.
Livestock owners and veterinarians in areas of Australia where anthrax occurs, are reminded seasonally to be alert to signs of the disease and to report, without delay, suspicious cases to veterinary authorities so appropriate investigations can be undertaken and control measures instituted if necessary. DEDJTR pays a fee to veterinary practitioners who investigate suspect anthrax cases to enable testing to be carried out without cost to the farmer.
DEDJTR maintains a stock of anthrax vaccine for use in an outbreak
Private veterinarians can be contracted at short notice to assist with collection of specimens and vaccination of at risk livestock, as occurred in the 1997 Tatura and 2007 Tatura/Stanhope outbreaks. Vaccination in response to a case of anthrax in the area is carried out free of charge.
Victoria has the necessary legislation in place to effect the necessary disease control measures to deal with an outbreak. Victorian emergency management arrangements ensure a multi-agency response involving all relevant agencies (such as SES, Police, Department of Health and local government).
How can anthrax be prevented?
Farmers in anthrax-prone areas should contact DEDJTR if they wish to undertake voluntary preventive vaccination against anthrax. Vaccination in anthrax-prone areas is subsidised with farmers paying only $1 per head. The subsidy does not apply where producers wish to send cattle overseas (vaccination for export purposes) or to a feedlot where pre-entry vaccination is a requirement.
In Victoria, what impact does anthrax infection in animals have on the human population?
Very few human cases have been reported in Victoria. The greatest risk is to those who handle dead livestock such as farmers, veterinarians and knackery workers. The last documented case of human anthrax in Victoria was a knackery worker infected in 2007. He had contact with an infected carcass, developed the cutaneous form of anthrax, was treated and recovered.
DEDJTR Customer Service Centre can put you in touch with your local animal health expert. Contact the Customer Service Centre on phone: 136 186. Livestock owners and veterinarians are reminded to report suspected cases to local veterinary authorities. For information related to public health please contact the Victorian Department of Health on phone: 1300 253 942 or visit their web site at Department of Health.
The Agnote was developed by Hugh Millar, January 2003.
It was reviewed by Leanna Dries, May 2014.
Published and Authorised by:
Department of Environment and Primary Industries
1 Spring Street
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