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Anthrax

Anthrax is a bacterial disease that affects many species including cattle, sheep, goats and humans. The causal bacterium Bacillus anthracis rapidly produces spores when exposed to air. They can persist in the soil for more than 50 years, but in areas of moist soil and high microbial activity, existence past four years is unlikely.

Once the spores enter the body through ingestion, inhalation or a flesh wound the spores develop into the active bacterium. Multiplying rapidly, the bacterium and its toxin overwhelm the immune system of the animal, resulting in sudden death.

Vaccination against anthrax is recommended in areas where there has been a known occurrence of the disease.

Anthrax is prohibited matter and a notifiable disease under the Federal Biosecurity Act 2015. If you suspect that an animal is showing symptoms of anthrax you must report it without delay to the Emergency animal disease watch hotline on 1800 675 888.

Conditions when anthrax is likely to occur

  • Anthrax most commonly occurs in the New South Wales 'anthrax belt' from Moree and Walgett down to the Victorian border from Corowa to Deniliquin. It also occurs in Victoria along the Goulburn and Murray rivers mainly. Isolated outbreaks have also occurred in Western Australia and Queensland.
  • Hot and dry conditions are perfect for the development of anthrax.
  • Outbreaks generally occur after major climate change, such as rain after a long drought.
  • The majority of infection occurs when animals ingest contaminated soil. Risks are higher when grazing stubble or very short pasture.
  • There is any history of anthrax on the property.

Identification and diagnosis

Be suspicious of anthrax if animals die suddenly or you notice one of the following:

  • blood visible around the nose, mouth or anus of the carcase
  • blood from the carcase does not clot.

Prevention

An integrated approach to prevent anthrax should consider the following:

  • annual vaccinations for cattle and sheep on properties with a history of anthrax is recommended.
  • if anthrax is detected, the spread can be minimised through:
    • incineration of the infected carcase
    • prevention of predation of the infected carcase.