Friday, 22 January 2016

All About ... Anthrax

What is it.

Anthrax is an acute disease that is caused by a bacterium ‘Bacillus anthracis’.  It is seen all over the world and affects many animals and some birds, in addition to humans.  Outbreaks occur in the UK every few years but these tend to be small and it does not spread rapidly.  A cow was identified to have the disease in October 2015 but the last outbreak was 2006.

This type of bacteria is able to form spores and these spores are microscopic.  The spores are also resistant and are able to survive in adverse environmental conditions.  They can lie dormant and survive for many years (decades or centuries) in the soil.  They prefer alkaline soils and when the conditions are favourable ie: temperature, nutrition, moisture – they will multiply. The disease can re-occur in the same location every now and then over a period of many years!


The symptoms will vary depending on the route of infection but can include:

  • High temperature 
  • Severe depression 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Abdominal pain/colic 
  • Swelling under the jaw, chest and abdomen 
  • Swelling in lower limbs 
  • Death in 2 – 4 days


The spores will enter the body by ingestion, inhalation or through a break in the skin.  The spores will then multiply quickly, they then produce a lethal toxin which is the cause of death.  The spores can also be found on infected animal hair or the carcass of a dead animal.


A blood test will confirm the presence of anthrax.


Call the Vet. Anthrax is a notifiable disease.  The horse should be isolated immediately. It is often too late for treatment however, the use of antibiotics can help if time permits! Horses do sometimes survive.


There is an effective vaccine available, this works for about 6 months.


Anthrax is not common  but to be aware of it is vital simply because it lives in the soil for so long!

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Until next time!

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