Anthrax has been confirmed as the cause of death of sheep on two properties near Swan Hill during March this year, following sheep deaths to the disease on four properties in early 2017.
Agriculture Victoria and veterinarians acted quickly, incinerating dead animals and burying ashes by approved biosecurity protocols. Affected properties have been quarantined, and over 3000 livestock on the infected and neighbouring properties were vaccinated by a team of 60 staff.
So why does Anthrax keep occurring?
Anthrax is an infectious bacterial disease caused by the naturally occurring bacteria Bacillus anthracis. It was first recognised in Australia in 1847 near Sydney, and thought to be brought in from India on contaminated bone manure used for fertiliser, and bonemeal used as mineral supplement. Its spread can be traced along old stock and trade routes through Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
The reappearance of anthrax is unpredictable as Anthrax spores can lie dormant in the soil for decades, over 60 years in one instance, waiting for the right conditions for them to enter an animal and cause disease. The disease usually appears during the warmer months, when it’s drier and sheep and cattle graze low pastures closer to the soil and come in contact with the bacteria – however it can occur at any time of year.
How can I tell if my stock have anthrax?
Anthrax can kill stock of any class or age, and can present as the sudden death of one or several animals in a mob without warning. Just prior to death, animals may show signs of high fever. Anthrax prevents blood from clotting, so blood and body fluids may ooze from body openings (eg. mouth, nose, eyes, anus and udder) and sites of predation. However, in many cases you may not see this sign, so don’t rely on these symptoms for accurate diagnosis of the disease.
If livestock die suddenly and without obvious cause, it is essential that you:
* report the incident immediately to your vet or local Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare (AHW) staff. If you can’t speak directly with one of these staff, ring the all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.
* do not handle, move or open the carcase of the animal
* have the carcase tested for anthrax by your vet or Agriculture Victoria AHW staff.
If there is an anthrax incident, actions include strict quarantine and biosecurity arrangements, the vaccination of potentially exposed stock and the destruction of the carcasses of affected animals.
Dr Charles Milne, Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer, reassures the public that:
* anthrax does not spread rapidly and is not contagious
* there is no general public health risk associated with anthrax
* any risk is confined to people who handle dead livestock such as farmers, veterinarians and knackery workers
* there is no impact on local produce or food safety.