Frequently Asked Questions
Currently, there is a large-scale epizootic (outbreak) of anthrax occurring in numerous southwestern counties of Texas, including (but potentially not limited to) Val Verde, Uvalde, Kinney, Real, and Edwards. Most of the properties with reported cases in livestock and deer are located north of US 90 and within an approximately 80-mile radius of Del Rio. Two suspected cases (deer) were located on Kickapoo Caverns State Park.
Anthrax is an infectious disease of mammals, including humans, and is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The disease is almost always fatal in deer and livestock. In humans, anthrax is treatable at early stages with antibiotics, but it CAN BE FATAL if it is not treated. Livestock can be vaccinated; producers in anthrax-endemic counties typically vaccinate. Humans can be vaccinated; however, vaccination is not typically recommended unless individuals are at high risk of infection (military personnel stationed in the Middle-east where anthrax could be used as a biological weapon).
Common sense is your best ally in dealing with anthrax. If you locate a live animal or carcass and suspect anthrax, do not touch it. If you do not know what you are doing, find someone who does. Texas Animal Health Commission can provide information on animal cases. Texas Department of Health provides information on human cases.
There are three types of infections possible in humans: (1) cutaneous (skin), (2) inhalational (lungs), and (3) gastro-intestinal (stomach).
Cutaneous anthrax is the most common form of the disease and may result from contact with infected materials (especially body fluids from an infected carcass). Infection is more likely if you have open wounds on your skin. After an incubation period of 1 to 10 days, there will be a blister-like lesion at the site of infection that eventually turns black. Cutaneous anthrax is readily treatable (even if lesions are apparent) with antibiotics. If personnel have been exposed and develop this type of lesion, they should seek medical attention immediately.
Inhalational anthrax is less likely to occur, but is more serious. After incubation (1 - 10 days), the individual may exhibit flu-like symptoms (fever, tiredness, cough, chest pain). Inhalational anthrax progresses very quickly; without early treatment it is fatal. If personnel have been exposed and develop any of these symptoms, they must seek medical attention immediately.
Gastro-intestinal anthrax results from consuming undercooked meat from an infected animal. This type of anthrax is extremely rare. Typical symptoms include gastro-intestinal distress (stomach ache/cramping, etc.).
Anthrax bacteria reside in the soil in many regions of Texas, but epizootics are more frequent in the counties mentioned above. During the warm summer months, when there are rapid changes in climatic conditions (alternating periods of rain and drought), spores of the bacterium can be found at the soil surface and on low-level vegetation where they are readily available for ingestion by livestock/wildlife. The incubation period is between 1 and 10 days. After the onset of clinical signs, livestock/wildlife die very rapidly, in as little as 3-4 hours. Clinical signs include depression, lethargy, and staggering; animals may try to get to water. Live animals often are not found. The first indication of an outbreak on an individual property typically is when carcasses are located. Often, the carcass will appear to be from an otherwise healthy-looking animal (no signs of prolonged illness).
What To Do...
- If you locate a carcass (or animal displaying clinical symptoms), do not touch or move it. Under no circumstances should you attempt a necropsy.
- Make a determination (to the best of your ability) of how fresh the carcass is.
- Contact the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC, numbers listed below) for further instructions. If possible, they will send a veterinarian to collect a sample for laboratory confirmation. The carcass will then need to be burned in place.
Anthrax is a reportable disease in Texas. Suspected animal cases must be reported to the Texas Animal Health Commission. Suspected human cases must be reported to the Texas Department of Health.
Texas Animal Health Commission
Regional Office in Beeville (counties in the current outbreak): 1-800-658-6570
Austin Headquarters: 1-800-550-8242
Texas Department of Health
Austin Headquarters (infectious diseases): (800) 252-8239
- Confirmed animal cases in Texas: Texas Department of Health.
- Texas Animal Health Commission.
- CDC frequently asked questions on anthrax.
- USDA - APHIS fact sheet on anthrax.