Farm under quarantine after cattle deaths attributed to anthrax

Farm under quarantine after cattle deaths attributed to anthrax

Anthrax has been confirmed as the cause of death of several animals on a cattle property north-east of Shepparton.

The property has been quarantined.

Anthrax is a disease caused by spore-forming bacteria that naturally occur in soil.

Grazing livestock are at the greatest risk of coming into contact with the bacteria, which can cause death within hours.

Agriculture Victoria said the dead animals have been disposed of, while the remaining cattle on the property are being vaccinated.

Anthrax can affect humans — although rarely — and a wide range of animals, with nearly all cases in Victoria having been seen in livestock, particularly grazing cattle and sheep.

Once ingested by animals, the bacteria produce potent toxins that cause the clinical signs of anthrax in animals, including fever, a lack of appetite, lethargy or sudden death, often with blood visible at the nose, mouth, and/or anus.

Swift action taken

Victoria’s deputy chief veterinary officer Dr Cameron Bell said five animals had died from the illness and had been disposed of in Agriculture Victoria’s specialised portable incinerator unit.

He said decisive action had been taken to limit the outbreak.

“Thanks to the early reporting by the owner and owner’s vet, Ag Vic was able to undertake the necessary steps to control the spread of infection,” he said.

“Since that notification we’ve quarantined the property and undertaken a number of measures to try and contain the spread.

“All the livestock on the property have been vaccinated and carcasses are in the process of being disposed of by burning, and the contaminated sites are being disinfected.”

Agriculture Victoria is urging farmers to report unexplained livestock deaths.(ABC Rural: Marty McCarthy)

The burning of the dead animals aims to limit the spread of spores.

“Burning carcasses on-site is a very effective way to destroy the infected carcasses and prevent spread,” Dr Bell said.

He urged people to be on the lookout for unexplained deaths and report them immediately.

“The key message is that any time of the year, anywhere in Victoria, it’s really important to report unexplained livestock deaths,” he said.

Long-life bacteria

The bacteria that cause anthrax can live in soils for up to half a century, livestock veterinarian Alison Gunn said.

Wet weather can help the bacteria to multiply, and when soil dries out they can form spores.

Northern Victoria has experienced a wet summer followed by recent hot, dry days.

“I think the biggest thing you need to do is be aware that now is a risk period, and if you have any suddenly dead animals you should investigate it,” Dr Gunn said.

Personal protective equipment is essential for anyone handling animals suspected to be infected with anthrax.

“There is a risk to humans,” Dr Gunn said.

“Most commonly it causes an infection on the skin or it gets into a cut on the skin, and then you get blisters and quite a nasty infection.”

In about 5 per cent of cases, people infected with anthrax can develop lung or gastrointestinal infections, she said.

Outbreaks of anthrax have previously been confirmed in the area.

In 2022, an anthrax outbreak occurred at a sheep property in the Murray River region. 

Reports can be made to private veterinarians or to Agriculture Victoria’s Emergency Animal Disease Hotline on 1800 675 000.

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