Health officials warn of anthrax outbreak in Texas animals


AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Anthrax is spreading in Texas animals.

The deadly outbreak is responsible for the deaths of at least 10 livestock and deer this year.

According to the Texas Animal Health Commission, the affected animals include horses, cattle, goats, deer and antelope. The confirmed cases were reported in the southwest Texas area.

“Anthrax cases in Texas are historically found in the triangular area bound by the towns of Uvalde, Ozona and Eagle Pass. This area includes portions of Crockett, Val Verde, Sutton, Edwards, Kinney and Maverick counties,” Dr. Susan Rollo, the commission’s state epidemiologist, said in a statement.

“We have not seen an outbreak of this size in over a decade,” Rollo said.

When a disease is confirmed on a premises, the commission works closely with local veterinarians and ranchers to lay out treatment and management plans.

Dr. Tom Sidwa, public health veterinarian with the Texas Department of State Health Services works with teams in charge of investigating and studying diseases transmitted from animals to people.

“We are not dealing with weaponized anthrax, we are talking about naturally-occurring,” he mentioned.

“The way you get anthrax is from spores,” Sidwa said.

“It will last in the soil for 40+ years. It’ll last in standing water for a couple of years. It’s very persistent, very stable in the environment. Especially when you have had cool moist weather followed by hot dry weather, it seems to on earth those spores and then the grazing and browsing animals such as livestock and deer well in the course of grazing pick up the spores,” he explained.

“When it enters their systems and starts multiplying and produces these horrendous toxins that ultimately kill the animal, they can go from seemingly normal to dead in a very short period of time, matter of hours,” he continued.

The 10 cases this year is historically high.

Information from the Texas Department of State Health Services showed 67 lab-confirmed cases from 2000-2018. Prior to that, the state confirmed 50 cases from 1974-1999.

Sidwa stated some property owners do not always report every single case, so the actual number of cases could be even higher.

“When you get into these hot zones where ranchers are used to seeing this periodically, they are not necessarily going to call the veterinarian and having every white tailed deer that dies on their place tested,” Sidwa explained.

“They know what it is, they’ve seen it,” he added.

Health experts warn Texas hunters to think twice before picking up antlers in the wild.

“The anthrax can survive in those antler tissues long-term so you don’t get to take those home for the dog to chew — you don’t mount them on a wall — leave it alone if it’s attached to a skull,” Sidwa said.

The Texas Animal Health Commission urges landowners in the state to vaccinate livestock to help prevent the spread, and report animal deaths to local veterinarians or regional TAHC offices.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has published a list of recommendations for Texans who come across deceased wildlife.

Note: a previous version of this report stated there were 67 cases over an eight year period. The correct data is 67 cases over an 18 year period from 2000-2018.

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