Anthrax a growing concern as Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory confirms 20th case

SAN ANGELO — Anthrax continues to be a growing concern in Texas, especially through the “anthrax triangle” region, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialist. 

The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, TVMDL, has now confirmed 20 positive cases of anthrax in animals, the Texas Animal Health Commission announced in their fifth situational update report. The first case was confirmed June 21 and the most recent case was confirmed Aug.13. In an average year, TVMDL diagnoses two to three cases.

However this year’s wet winter followed by a dry, warm summer were the ideal conditions for the bacteria to emerge said Dr. Reid Redden, AgriLife Extension sheep and goat specialist, San Angelo. Anthrax is naturally found in soil, and spores may remain dormant for decades before emerging.

“I’ve spoken to ranchers in the affected regions who have had animals die of anthrax or who have animals exhibiting the signs and symptoms of the disease,” said Redden. “However we don’t want people to panic. This disease is fairly well confined to a region in southwest Texas, and animals can be protected in advance by being vaccinated.”

Animals typically contract the disease through eating contaminated soil or inhaling spores. Once an animal is infected, the disease can be spread through their bodily fluids, hide and meat, and caution should be taken. 

Biting insects may also spread the disease. Horse flies are experiencing high populations this year and are known vectors of the disease, but the extent of their role in spreading anthrax is unknown. 

Redden said the symptoms of anthrax occur three to seven days after the animal has been infected and may include seizures, staggering and difficulty breathing. In later stages of the disease, animals will bleed from their orifices. Typically animals die within 48 hours of symptom onset.

Texas Animal Health Commission’s rules, as stated in the Texas Administrative Code, requires that if anthrax is suspected, a sample must be drawn by a vet and sent to TVMDL for testing. The carcasses of deceased animals must be disposed of by burning.

The “anthrax triangle” is the area of Texas where cases are traditionally seen. Shaded counties represent where 2019 cases have occurred. (Texas Animal Health Commission map)

In Texas, the “anthrax triangle” is the area where cases are traditionally seen. So far this year, cases have been found in Crockett, Kinney, Sutton, Uvalde and Val Verde counties. Species infected include goats, deer, cattle, antelope and horses.

“We tend to see anthrax when the hot part of the summer starts, and then it tends to go away once it gets cooler,” Redden said. “But cooler weather could still be a couple of months away. This problem could get a lot worse before it gets better.”

To learn more about the crucial role TVMDL plays in disease surveillance efforts in Texas, go to http://bit.ly/2Kv4M7m

To learn more about the health and safety precautions to take if anthrax is suspected in an animal, as well as the proper disposal procedures, visit https://bit.ly/2Md0bIP.

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