SACRAMENTO-Anthrax, which naturally occurs in soil around the world, has resulted in the deaths of 21 cattle at a ranch in a rural section of Santa Clara County between October 20 and October 28. About 120 cattle have been vaccinated to protect against further losses. There is no evidence that this event is related to terrorist activities.
“This incident does not pose a threat to the general public,” stated Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr.
Martin Fenstersheib, M.D., M.P.H. “The only people at risk are those coming into direct contact with the blood, tissue or other body fluids of infected animals.”
At any other time, a case of anthrax in livestock would be reported and handled through regular procedures and operations. However, because of the developments on the East Coast and recent anthrax incidents, all public agencies are in a heightened state of awareness regarding anthrax. As a precaution, appropriate authorities, including the FBI, have been notified.
“Anthrax is a very old disease that is not uncommon in animals,” said State Veterinarian Dr. Richard Breitmeyer. “Bacteria spores can live in soil for many years. Animals contract the disease by ingesting the spores. It is not contagious among animals. The rapid reporting and response to contain this event helped to safeguard livestock and protect public health. ”
Prior to this anthrax event, there had been 10 known cases in the state in the past 10 years. In 1991, an anthrax event in Contra Costa County killed 28 cattle. A more severe event occurred in 1984, when 43 cattle and 135 sheep died in San Luis Obispo County.
During an on-site visit to the ranch, Dr. Fenstersheib determined that four individuals at the ranch came in contact with the blood of infected animals while assisting in a necropsy. Since the development of cutaneous anthrax is a possibility, antibiotics were prescribed to all four individuals as a precautionary measure.
The presence of anthrax was confirmed by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at U.C. Davis, from samples submitted by the practicing veterinarian, who was also placed on antibiotics. Even though the lab has identified anthrax in the past, as a precautionary measure, 10 lab employees who
handled the tissue samples saw a campus doctor and were given antibiotics. None of the 10 has shown symptoms of anthrax.
As a matter of policy, the California Department of Food and Agriculture works with the agriculture industry, county agricultural commissioners and local veterinarians in private practice to maintain its rapid response system, which relies on open lines of communication around the clock whenever there is an animal disease threat. This event is an excellent example that the system works.
Vaccination is an effective means of protecting cattle against anthrax spores, which can be picked up directly from soil through grazing. When periods of drought cause animals to graze closer to the ground, animals may be more likely to ingest spores. Flooding and working the land are also associated with an increased risk of spore ingestion.
Producers should be aware of the signs or risk factors of anthrax in livestock and are encouraged to contact their veterinarian whenever they see an unusual disease event.
NOTE-More information about the anthrax event will be available at a press briefing on at 10 a.m. onTuesday, October 30 at the Santa Clara County General Services Agency, 1555 Berger Dr. Building 2 San Jose.
California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Public Affairs
1220 N St., Ste. 214, Sacramento, CA 95814