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Anthrax is an infectious bacterial disease that occurs in most countries around the world. It can affect humans, but mainly occurs naturally in wild and domestic animals. Anthrax bacterial spores can survive for a long time in the environment, which makes disease control very challenging.
Bacillus anthracis forms spores when in contact with air (outside of an animal host). These spores are the dormant form of the vegetative bacteria and are extremely resistant, being able to survive for decades in soil and may also persist in animal hair, hide or wool.
A grazing animal typically becomes infected by eating anthrax spores in the soil. Once ingested the bacterial spores start reproducing and produce potent toxins that usually cause the death of the animal. If the carcass of the affected animal is opened and the bacteria are exposed to air, more highly resistant long-lived spores are produced, contaminating the soil and continuing the cycle.
Effective control of anthrax outbreaks involves acting quickly to vaccinate all at-risk livestock, reporting and testing of sudden unexplained deaths to detect additional cases early, safe disposal of infected carcasses to reduce further environmental contamination and movement controls of susceptible livestock from high-risk properties.
If livestock die suddenly and without an obvious cause on your property:
• report the incident immediately to your veterinarian or the Agriculture Victoria 24-hour Emergency Animal Disease Watch hotline on 1800 675 888;
• do not move the carcass;
• get the carcass tested for anthrax by your veterinarian or Agriculture Victoria Animal Health and Welfare staff. This service is free.
Previous outbreaks in Victoria have occurred in locations where there was no recent documented history of anthrax. This reminds us to be vigilant and consider anthrax as a possible cause of sudden, unexplained deaths in susceptible livestock anywhere in the state.
For further information contact your local Agriculture Victoria staff, call the Customer Service Centre on 136 186 or go to www.agriculture.vic.gov.au and search for anthrax.
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