One cowherd in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany is suffering from a rare outbreak of anthrax disease.
The Minister of Agriculture from Magdeburg, the capital city of Saxony-Anhalt, revealed on Monday that 12 cows have died due to the infection. To protect from further deaths, the entire herd has been moved to a safe pasture and all animals are being treated with antibiotics. Additionally, 50 individuals who had been in close contact with the herd are also undergoing antibiotic treatment.
Animal disease experts from the Friedrich Loeffler Institute for Animal Health are expected to arrive this week to search for anthrax spores in the original pastures. It is suspected that the animals became ill after ingesting feed infected with these dangerous spores.
Prior to this outbreak, the last cases of anthrax in Germany occurred in Bavaria in 2009. Recently, 150 bison died in Canada’s Northwest Territories, also from anthrax found in the soil.
Infection with anthrax is caused by a type of bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. It most commonly affects hooved animals, but can also be transmitted to people who come into contact with infected animals. Farm workers, veterinarians, and tannery and wool workers all face an elevated risk of contacting anthrax.
There are three types of anthrax infections, characterized by their routes of transmission: cutaneous anthrax, inhalation anthrax, and gastrointestinal anthrax. Symptoms of anthrax depend on the type of infection.
Symptoms of cutaneous anthrax can take up to one week to develop. Usually an itchy sore, similar to an insect bite, forms. Although the sore is usually painless, blistering and swelling may occur and a black ulcer may develop. Complete healing of the sores usually takes longer than two weeks.
Symptoms of inhalation anthrax begin with fever, malaise, headache, shortness of breath and chest pain. This can rapidly progress to shock.
Last, symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax usually occur within one week and include abdominal pain, fever, mouth sores, and diarrhea and vomiting, which may contain blood.
Cutaneous anthrax cannot be spread from person to person and responds well to antibiotics. Antibiotics for inhalation and gastrointestinal anthrax are also effective. However these forms are more likely to spread to the blood and cause death. For example, up to 90 percent of second-stage inhalation anthrax cases are fatal. Therefore, early diagnosis is key for successful treatment.