Agriculture Victoria veterinarians and animal health staff are responding to the detection of anthrax in a small number of sheep on a property near Swan Hill.

Public domain image/Titus Tscharntke

Anthrax has been identified as the likely cause of death in five sheep to date on the property which has been quarantined.

Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Graeme Cooke said thanks to the farmer’s early reporting, the necessary steps to reduce the likelihood of the detection impacting more livestock had been put in place and at-risk livestock were being vaccinated.

“Anthrax is caused by a naturally occurring bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, that is known to be present for long periods in the soil in parts of northern and North-West Victoria,” he said.

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“It is not unusual for incidents of anthrax to be detected in cattle and sheep in the region during the warmer months when it is drier and cattle and sheep forage deeper into the soil when grazing.

“Quarantine controls that were put in place will not affect the movement of any local people or vehicles.”

Anthrax is not a concern for the general public:

  • Anthrax does not spread rapidly and is not very contagious
  • There is little general public health risk associated with anthrax
  • Any risk is confined to people who handle dead livestock such as farmers, veterinarians and knackery workers
  • There is no impact on local produce or food safety.

Dr Cooke said while incidents commonly occur during the warmer months when it’s drier, cases of anthrax have occurred, and may occur, at any time of year so continued vigilance is required.

Local farmers, veterinarians and Agriculture Victoria are well prepared to handle these incidents that occur from time to time, he said.

“This includes pre-emptively vaccinating stock each year and if there is a detection, the implementation of strict quarantine and biosecurity arrangements, the vaccination of potentially exposed stock and the destruction of the carcasses of affected animals.”

Agriculture Victoria veterinarians and animal health officers are currently working closely with livestock owners and veterinarians in the region to ensure they are aware of the signs of disease and appropriate actions to take if they are concerned.