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Anthrax suspected in death of district cattle


Anthrax, a disease which can kill an animal 12 hours after it is infected, may have hit the Rainy River District.

“On Thursday last week, a farmer in the Rainy River area had a few animals that died within a few hours on his farm,” said Dr. George Luterbach, a veterinarian at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Winnipeg.

“The initial samples indicated that this was suspected anthrax,” he noted. “There have been no confirmed cases yet but we are acting on the presumption of a worst-case scenario.”

As of Monday, ten animals had died at the farm. The body of one of the animals was sent to a federal laboratory in Alberta to confirm whether it was anthrax that killed the cattle.

Cattle have died from anthrax on 17 North Dakota farms and 23 cows on five Manitoba farms in what is the worst anthrax outbreak in the region in at least 20 years. There are also reports of the disease in Minnesota.

The outbreak is being blamed on heavy rains combined with high humidity activating dormant anthrax spores that may have been in the soil for decades.

“We seem to see an association with flooding disturbing the soil and stirring some of these spores out,” noted Dr. Luterbach. “The disease is one of exposure. This disease is not a disease that spreads from farm to farm.”

Dr. Luterbach also explained that local markets should not be affected as any animal contracting the disease would die in a matter of hours leaving little opportunity for it to leave the area where it encountered the bacteria.

The local farm has about 260 head on four different premises, only one of which has been hit by the bacteria.

A vaccination for the disease is also available and has been used on over 500 head in Manitoba as well as at the locally infected farm.

“All of the cattle that are on the farm in question are being vaccinated,” said Dr. Luterbach.

The strain of anthrax hitting cattle is not deadly for people and Dr. Peter Sarsfield, Medical Officer and Chief Executive Officer of the Northwestern Health Unit said there is no real medical concern for most residents.

“[In humans], it only causes a local skin infection which responds rapidly from proper treatment,” explained Sarsfield.

“The concern regarding humans is very limited to only the ones in direct contact. I don’t mean near it as in the same body space—I mean in direct physical contact with the animals or their carcasses.”

“There is no evidence at all of any human to human spread,” he added.

All infected farms in Manitoba have been placed under quarantine for 30 days.

About 100 buffalo in Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park have also died from what is likely anthrax.

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