Anthrax Information for the Public
Anthrax cases in animals are periodically reported within the United States and Canada, and remain common in much of the world. Transmission of anthrax from animals to people is unlikely, and numerous safeguards are in place to ensure that livestock diagnosed with anthrax pose no threat to human health. There has not been a case of human anthrax in Minnesota since 1953.
What is anthrax?
Anthrax is a naturally occurring disease of both animals and humans caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. All warm-blooded animals are susceptible to the disease but cattle, horses, sheep and goats are most commonly affected. Anthrax can occur in three forms: cutaneous (skin), gastrointestinal, and inhalation. Anthrax spores occur naturally in the soil of areas historically associated with heavy cattle populations or movement, and where livestock have previously died from the disease. The spores are very hardy and can survive in the soil for decades. The organism prefers alkaline soils.
In Minnesota, anthrax has been reported on approximately 260 farms since 1909. Prior to 2000, most cases occurred in southwestern Minnesota. Since 2000, cases have been clustered in northwestern Minnesota. In addition to Minnesota, anthrax has been reported in many other states and Canadian provinces.
How do animals get anthrax?
Livestock likely ingest spores as they graze and the spores become active once they are inside the animal's body. Excavation and tilling, as well as drought, can also bring spores to the soil surface. In some cases, anthrax may occur after heavy rain or flooding bring spores to the surface. Animal to animal contact does not spread anthrax.
How do people get anthrax from animals?
In people, cutaneous anthrax is the most common form of the disease, accounting for over 95 percent of cases. Direct contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products is necessary to develop cutaneous anthrax. Cutaneous anthrax responds very well to antibiotic treatment and fatalities are rare.
Gastrointestinal and inhalation anthrax are more lethal but very rare. Gastrointestinal anthrax results from eating raw or undercooked meat from an infected animal. Inhalation anthrax historically occurred in industrial situations from the processing of wool or hides of infected animals.
Is my family at risk?
Numerous safeguards are in place to ensure that animals with anthrax don't pose a threat to public health. Animals that die suddenly on farms never enter the food supply, and if anthrax is confirmed the animals are incinerated onsite. All animals that arrive at slaughter plants are inspected and if anthrax is suspected, an animal will not be processed.
Infection with anthrax from the environment is extremely unlikely. Precautions are in place to ensure that anthrax spores from infected animals are not reintroduced to the environment. If a dead animal were missed, the anthrax spores would only contaminate the soil in the immediate area. Transmission via direct contact with an anthrax infected animal is unlikely. However, if you had contact with animals on a farm with cases of anthrax, consult your physician.