It what is considered a very rare and unusual occurrence, a representative from the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) confirmed via an email to Promed Mail that anthrax, caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, has been diagnosed on a Southern Indiana beef cattle farm.

Bacillus anthracis bacteria Image/CDC
Bacillus anthracis bacteria

According to BOAH Public Information Director, Denise Derrer,  a single, mixed-breed bull died from the bacterial disease. Anthrax was detected after a private practitioner collected tissue samples for laboratory testing after the animal died unexpectedly.

The infected animal was incinerated on-site, and the farm was placed under a 30-day quarantine and observation order by the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH). BOAH has advised vaccination for all remaining animals on the site.

As of Dec.1, other animals in the herd have not shown clinical signs of anthrax.

According to Ms. Derrer, this is very unusual, in fact she notes that they do not have any knowledge of the last case in the state and are looking through historical records and consulting with older veterinarians to see if anyone knows when the last anthrax case may have been.

Anthrax is seen occasionally in some areas of the United States like Texas and the Dakotas. 

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, Anthrax is a zoonotic disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracisAnthrax is most common in wild and domestic herbivores (eg, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes) but can also be seen in humans exposed to tissue from infected animals, contaminated animal products or directly to B anthracis spores under certain conditions.

LISTEN: Anthrax in animals: An interview with Dr. Buddy Faries

Depending on the route of infection, host factors, and potentially strain-specific factors,anthrax can have several different clinical presentations. In herbivores, anthrax commonly presents as an acute septicemia with a high fatality rate, often accompanied by hemorrhagic lymphadenitis.

B. anthracis spores can remain infective in soil for many years. During this time, they are a potential source of infection for grazing livestock. Grazing animals may become infected when they ingest sufficient quantities of these spores from the soil.In addition to direct transmission, biting flies may mechanically transmit B. anthracis spores from one animal to another.

People can get anthrax by handling contaminated animal or animal products, consuming undercooked meat of infected animals and more recently, intentional release of spores.