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Changes to the CFIA Anthrax Program

This is a guest post written by Karin Schmid, Beef Production Specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers

Anthrax is a rapid, fatal disease caused by bacteria (Bacillus anthracis) that exist as inactive spores in the soil and can remain dormant for many years.  Animals contract the disease when they consume infected soil, feed or water and spores become active within the animal, causing death within hours.

Initial symptoms include weakness, fever, and excitability, followed by depression, difficulty breathing, lack of coordination and convulsions.  There may also be a bloody discharge, which can further contaminate the soil.  However, due to the rapid progression of the disease, death is often the first sign.

A few isolated cases of anthrax occur almost every year in Western Canada.  These usually appear during a period of hot, dry weather following a period of wet weather or flooding which brings the spores to the surface of the soil.  Conditions that increase the risk of soil consumption by cattle (i.e. tillage, drought, close cut hay) increase the risk of anthrax.

Vaccination is an effective way to protect cattle from anthrax, but requires 7 to 10 days for immunity to develop.  Anthrax can be treated with antibiotics (primarily long acting penicillin) that will kill the bacteria, but does not provide long-term protection.  If antibiotics are used, vaccination must be postponed until the effect of the antibiotic wears off.

Anthrax is a reportable disease in Canada, which means that producers, veterinarians and laboratories are required to report suspect cases to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).

If a case of anthrax is suspected:

  • Notify your veterinarian immediately
  • Remove the surviving animals from the pasture/pen
  • Limit scavenging if possible
  • DO NOT move the dead animal or open the carcass
  • DO NOT call for deadstock pickup

Effective April 1, 2013, CFIA no longer:

  • investigates and quarantines anthrax infected premises
  • collects and submits samples for testing
  • performs anthrax testing
  • provides an initial dose of anthrax vaccine for affected herds
  • oversees carcass disposal, cleaning and disinfection
  • pays an indemnity to help cover the cost of disposing of animal carcasses.

The CFIA will continue to license anthrax vaccine and provide information on how to properly dispose of anthrax infected carcasses.

Concerned producers should consult with their veterinarian to determine whether vaccination is recommended, especially if their herd is in an area where the disease has been detected before.

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