anthrax; catarrhal; bovine; disease; rabies; fever

Livestock production: What are the symptoms of anthrax?

Question: What causes anthrax and what are the symptoms?

One of the earliest references to anthrax is most likely in the Christian Bible where it is written that the Egyptians were punished with this plague for not releasing the Israelites from slavery.

Attempts to eradicate the disease have proven unsuccessful. The war disrupted Zimbabwe’s anthrax vaccination scheme during the 1970s, which led to more than 10 000 people contracting the disease in 1978.

Anthrax is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. Animals get the disease when they ingest infected plant material, water or even the bones of dead animals.

Cattle that get anthrax display the following symptoms:

  • Lack of appetite and not eating
  • Drop in milk production
  • Milk may be bloody
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lying down often
  • In some cases blood can flow from the nose and anus
  • Death can occur within 72 hours of infection

Every drop of blood from an animal that died of anthrax is infected with bacteria. The bacteria can survive as a spore for as long as 250 years.

Spores are formed when contaminated bodily fluids get in contact with oxygen, like when a carcass infected with the disease is cut open. This is why these carcasses should never be cut open.

People can be infected with the disease in 2 ways. The first occurs by inhaling the spores, which then infects the lungs. This is the deadliest form of the disease in humans. The second form is intestinal and is contracted when people eat contaminated meat.

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