Anthrax as a Bioterrorist Agent: How animals may be affected
What is anthrax?
Anthrax is a serious infectious disease caused by spore-forming bacteria called Bacillus anthracis and occurs naturally in animals in the southern and southwestern parts of Texas. Many different types of animals, as well as people, can get the disease and could, therefore, be affected in a terrorist attack.
How can an animal get anthrax?
Deer and livestock normally get the disease by swallowing anthrax spores while grazing on contaminated pasture. In the case of terrorism, large numbers of anthrax spores may be released into the air. Animals and people at the site of the anthrax release may become infected by breathing the spores, which are odorless, colorless, and tasteless.
What are the signs of anthrax disease in animals?
Signs of the illness usually appear 3-7 days after the spores are inhaled or swallowed but may occur sooner if a large number of spores are inhaled. Once symptoms begin, victims usually die within two days. Seriously-affected animals may stagger, have difficulty breathing, tremble, and finally collapse and die within a few hours. Animals with less serious cases may have a rise in temperature, a period of excitement followed by staggering, depression, unconsciousness, difficulty breathing, convulsions, and death. Symptoms in pigs, dogs, and cats may be less severe than in deer and livestock.
How is anthrax diagnosed?
Symptoms may make a veterinarian suspicious of anthrax, but the disease can often be confused with other illnesses. A positive diagnosis is made by a laboratory finding the anthrax bacteria or antibodies to anthrax in the blood of affected animals.
How is anthrax treated?
It is usually hopeless to treat animals that are sick. Occasionally, if the disease is diagnosed soon after infection, antibiotics, along with adequate nursing care, may help. The indiscriminate use of antibiotics in an animal without an infection may result in other serious complications.
Is an anthrax vaccine available?
A vaccine for livestock is commonly used in areas that have anthrax, but the vaccine must be used before the animal is exposed to the bacteria. The vaccine for livestock is not the same as the one for humans. No vaccine is available for pets.
Can infected animals spread anthrax?
Handling or eating a dead or sick animal infected with anthrax can transmit anthrax to humans and other animals.
What should be done with animals that die of anthrax?
Because animals that die of anthrax can contaminate the soil with anthrax spores, the bodies should be burned, not buried. In the case of bioterrorism, disposal methods will be determined by the government agency in charge of the disaster response.
How do I protect my animals and myself in case of attack?
Only those people and animals near the attack site will be in danger of infection. Cleaning hair, skin, clothing, and animals with soap and water will help eliminate contamination.
Texas Department of State Health Services - Infectious Disease Control Unit
1100 West 49th Street, Suite T801, Mail Code: 1960 PO BOX 149347 - Austin, TX 78714-9347
(512) 458-7676 - Fax: (512) 458-7616 - E-Mail
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