Livestock industry at risk after anthrax found in South Dakota cattle

Dominik Dausch
Farm Forum

For the first time this year, anthrax, a serious bacterial disease, has been found in a herd of livestock in western South Dakota.

That's according to State Veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson, who confirmed the presence of the disease in a press release from the South Dakota Animal Industry Board on Tuesday.

The disease was found in several deceased cows that belonged to a herd of 160 unvaccinated cattle in Meade County. South Dakota State University's animal disease laboratory confirmed the disease from samples submitted over the weekend.

More:Northern Plains flooding increases risk of anthrax in cattle

Anthrax is a pervasive disease that can devastate herds of livestock in a short amount of time, "and much of South Dakota has the potential of experiencing an outbreak," Thompson said in the release. Cattle that catch anthrax may sudden perish without any visible symptoms.

Russ Daly, state public health veterinarian with SDSU, told Farm Forum the general public is not at risk of infection, but farmers need to avoid making direct skin contact with carcasses containing anthrax.

"Once it's in a cow and it multiplies and takes off, that cow carcass can be a source of infection in people, so we tend to be very careful," Daly said. "You'd have to have direct contact with infected cattle, and even then it would just manifest as a skin infection. Those are nasty looking infections, but very treatable with antibiotics. But any anthrax infection could be still be a serious problem."

Drought, floods and winds can spread anthrax spores to grazing livestock. Spores can also persist indefinitely in contaminated soil and may vegetate in grazeland, which could further spread the infection among South Dakota's cattle.

“During the summer, producers should take time to check all cattle frequently and promptly investigate any unexpected deaths on pasture, whether in cows, bulls or calves," Thompson added. "With anthrax and many other diseases, treatments and preventive measures are available, and prompt action can help prevent excessive losses."

Suspect carcasses should not be moved or disturbed until a diagnosis has been made. If a producer suspects anthrax, the case should be reported immediately to local veterinarians or to the State Veterinarian at 605-773-3321.