Officials with the Public Health England, Wiltshire Council, and DEFRA confirmed a case of anthrax in a cow on a farm in the Westbury area of Wiltshire.

Bacillus anthracis bacteria using Gram-stain technique
Anthrax bacterium/CDC

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Animal and Plant Health Agency reported Monday:

An isolated case of anthrax disease in a cow was confirmed at a farm in Wiltshire in October 2015 following the death of the cow. Movement restrictions were imposed at the farm and the animal’s carcase was incinerated. No other animals have been affected.

The previous outbreak in livestock in Great Britain was in 2006.

Mike Wade, Deputy Director of Health Protection for Public Health England South West said: “We are aware of a confirmed case of anthrax disease in a cow in the Westbury area of Wiltshire. The risk of infection in close human contacts of the animal is very low, and we are in touch with any potential contacts to offer public health advice.”

Maggie Rae, Director of Public Health and Wiltshire Council Corporate Director said: “We worked with our partners both locally and nationally and swift action was taken to deal with the immediate risk. We know any risk is low, however as you would expect, we are taking this very seriously and we will be doing everything in our power to support the national and local experts to keep Wiltshire safe.”

The last case of the rare disease was almost 10 years ago on a beef farm in South Wales. Two cows died on the farm in Rhondda Cynon Taf in April 2006.

Cow and calf Image/Agricultural Research Services
Cow and calf
Image/Agricultural Research Services

Anthrax is a bacterial pathogen in livestock and wild animals. Some of the more common herbivores are cattle, sheep,goats, horses, camels and deers. Anthrax is a very serious disease of livestock because it can potentially cause the rapid loss of a large number of animals in a very short time. Affected animals are often found dead with no illness detected.

It infects humans primarily through occupational or incidental exposure with infected animals of their skins.

Anthrax is caused by the bacterium, Bacillus anthracis. This spore forming bacteria can survive in the environment for years because of its ability to resist heat, cold, drying, etc.  This is usually the infectious stage of anthrax.

When conditions become favorable, the spores germinate into colonies of bacteria. Anexamplewould be a grazing cow ingests spores that in the cow, germinate, grow spread andeventually kill the animal.

The bacteria will form spores in the carcass and then return to the soil to infect other animals. The vegetative form is rarely implicated in transmission.  Strict enforcement of quarantines and proper burning and burying of carcasses from livestock suspected to have died from anthrax is important to prevent further soil contamination with the bacterial spores.

There are no reports of person-to-person transmission of anthrax. People get anthrax by handling contaminated animal or animal products, consuming undercooked meat of infected animals and more recently, intentional release of spores.

There are three types of human anthrax with differing degrees of seriousness: cutaneousgastrointestinal and inhalation.

Robert Herriman is a microbiologist and the Editor-in-Chief of Outbreak News Today and the Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch

Follow @bactiman63


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