Anthrax in animals
Anthrax occurs in Victoria from time to time.
We urge farmers and those working with livestock to be vigilant for anthrax. Prompt reporting of suspected cases may potentially reduce the contamination of affected farms.
Actions to take if you suspect anthrax
It is essential that, if livestock die suddenly and without an obvious cause:
- Report the incident immediately to your private vet or Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare (AHW) staff.
- Don't move the carcass.
- Get the carcass tested for anthrax by your private vet or our AHW staff.
If you suspect an animal may have died from anthrax, immediately contact your private vet or local AHW staff.
- You can also call the Customer Call Centre on 136 186.
- If you cannot speak directly with an officer from Animal Health and Welfare do not leave a message. Instead, immediately ring the all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.
What is anthrax?
Anthrax is an infectious bacterial disease of animals, caused by the spore-forming bacteria Bacillus anthracis. It can affect humans and a wide range of animals. Nearly all cases in Victoria have been seen in livestock, particularly cattle and sheep.
Signs of anthrax in livestock
Cattle and sheep with anthrax generally die suddenly.
Just before death, animals may show signs of high fever. Blood may be present around the nose, mouth and anus of carcasses. In many cases you may not see this sign, so it should not be relied on to diagnose anthrax. 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 any other obvious cause are tested for anthrax before they are moved. This reduces the risk of human exposure and minimises contamination of the affected property if anthrax is confirmed.
Where anthrax occurs
Anthrax is well known to occur intermittently in grazing livestock and there have been sporadic cases in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland in recent decades.
For Victoria, most of the recent cases have been in northern parts of the state and have involved sheep and cattle. In the past, anthrax has also occurred in Gippsland and South-West Victoria.
For more information please visit the Anthrax — Biosecurity advisory page.
Time of year anthrax occurs
Anthrax usually appears during the warmer months. However, cases of anthrax have occurred, and may occur, at any time of year in Victoria.
Testing for anthrax
Appropriate samples can be collected and tested on farm using the hand-held immunochromatographic test (ICT) in cattle and sheep with results available within 15 minutes. Further confirmatory testing is usually undertaken at a laboratory, taking approximately 24 hours. This testing will be carried out at no cost to the farmer.
To encourage this, cattle, sheep and goat producers are eligible for a one-off industry-funded incentive payment of $1,000 (cattle) or $500 (sheep or goat) following a positive diagnosis of anthrax if the:
- cattle, sheep or goat carcass have not been moved from the death site, and
- producer reports the case to AgVic or their private veterinarian for testing, and
- animal is found to be the first anthrax case associated with an outbreak (only one payment for an outbreak where multiple farms are affected).
- Note: if more than one species from one producer has a positive diagnosis, only one incentive payment will be made.
If the case occurs on a dairy farm, the dairy processor is advised. Food safety and public health agencies are also routinely notified.
Movement of animals and animal products from the farm is suspended while anthrax testing is carried out.
Livestock producers may be eligible for disease investigation subsidies under the Significant Disease Investigation Program, in the event the death is not associated with anthrax.
Funding of testing for anthrax by private vets
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 are safely disposed of (usually by burning)
- contaminated sites are disinfected.
The quarantine is not released until at least 20 days have passed since the last anthrax case and at least 20 days have passed since the last round of vaccinations on the property (whichever is later).
Most incidents of anthrax involve single isolated cases, and quarantine, vaccination, disposal and decontamination measures prevent further cases. Occasionally, larger-scale outbreaks occur in Victoria, such as those in 1997 and 2007. Vaccination across a wider area may be required to control larger outbreaks.
If you are in an anthrax-prone area you should contact us if you wish to undertake voluntary preventive vaccination against anthrax.
Risks to people from anthrax in animals
Very few human cases of anthrax have been reported in Victoria.
The greatest risk is to those who handle dead livestock such as farmers, vets and knackery workers.
The last documented case of human anthrax in Victoria was in 2007 when a knackery worker, who had contact with an infected carcass, developed the skin form of anthrax. He was treated with antibiotics and recovered.
Measures taken by us to prepare for an outbreak
The measures taken in Victoria to deal with occurrences of anthrax in farm animals are designed to:
- limit disease outbreaks
- protect domestic and export markets for livestock and their products
- safeguard public health.
We have an all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Hotline for the immediate reporting by farmers and veterinarians of suspected cases of anthrax.
We have comprehensive policy and operational procedures for the management of anthrax, which cover:
- disposal of carcasses and animal products
We keep a stock of anthrax vaccine for use in an outbreak. Vaccination carried out in response to a case of anthrax in the area is carried out free of charge.
Australian veterinary authorities maintain emergency plans, based on the Australian Veterinary Emergency Plan (AUSVETPLAN), for the control of a large-scale anthrax outbreak. These plans include collaborative arrangements with a range of government authorities and industry organisations.
Online anthrax training for veterinarians
A series of short Anthrax Training Modules are now available online through the Agriculture Victoria Learning Management System (LMS).
The anthrax training modules have been designed as a series of three online learning modules.
The modules cover topics such as:
- general anthrax disease information
- when and how to use an ICT kit
- how to apply for and use anthrax vaccine
- safety considerations
- roles and responsibilities of Agriculture Victoria and private vets
- other useful information to support you.
It is recommended you complete the training every three years (as a minimum), however individual modules can be accessed anytime to provide you with a quick refresher whenever or wherever you need it.
Note: You must register as a ‘veterinarian’ or ‘veterinary student’ to access the modules.
Agriculture Victoria Customer Service Centre can put you in touch with your local Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare staff member. Contact the Customer Service Centre on 136 186.
For further information, read the Anthrax factsheet.