Anthrax is a zoonotic disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The disease is most common in cattle and sheep, but can be seen in dogs, horses, pigs and other animals including humans. While humans can become infected by handling carcasses or the body fluids of an infected animal after its death, the disease causing agent in livestock is not as easily transmitted to humans as the modified anthrax spores that were used as bioterrorism agents after the World Trade Center bombings.
Cases of anthrax are seen yearly in states such as Texas, North and South Dakota, and other Midwestern states. Oklahoma has not had any known cases since 1996.
Outbreaks have often been associated with floods that follow drought, and are slightly more apt to occur in alkaline soil. Oklahoma has a higher than normal potential to experience cases of anthrax this summer and livestock producers should be alert to the signs of the disease.
Most of the time, owners see no signs of illness with anthrax in their livestock and the animals are found suddenly dead. A carcass will typically bloat rapidly, dark tarry blood oozes from body openings, and rigor mortis does not set in. A live animal with anthrax will have a very high fever, be very listless, and will usually die within a few hours. If you suspect anthrax, please call your veterinarian immediately for an assessment.
Animals that die from anthrax should not be moved or have the carcass opened up. Opening the carcass releases the bacteria which then can form spores and may infect the soil in the area. A veterinarian should be called to observe the carcass and take a blood sample which can be transported by hand to an animal diagnostic laboratory for faster verification, or can be shipped normally which will result in an increased response time. Blood samples from suspected anthrax cases should be triple bagged and cushioned well when shipping to prevent breakage.
Animals that have been diagnosed as having anthrax or are strongly suspected should be incinerated or buried deeply according to the carcass disposal guidelines found at http://ag.ok.gov/aems/Carcass%20disposal%20options.pdf .