At least seven people in Central Myanmar’s Sagaing Region are believed to have been infected with the bacterial disease, anthrax, after handling known diseased animals, according to a local media report. 

Burma map
Myanmar Image/CIA

According to health officials, several unvaccinated cows died of the disease on Sep. 4 and were handled by the seven individuals. Anthrax is suspected; however, it has yet to be confirmed.

The infected individuals are being treated. No fatalities were reported.

Anthrax is a bacterial pathogen in livestock and wild animals. Some of the more common herbivores are cattle, sheep, goats, horses, camels and deer. 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.

When conditions become favorable, the spores germinate into colonies of bacteria. An example would be a grazing cow ingests spores that in the cow, germinate, grow spread and eventually kill the animal.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.

LISTEN: Dr Floron (Buddy) C. Faries, Professor & Extension Veterinarian, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and with the National Center for Foreign Animal & Zoonotic Disease Defense discusses animal anthrax Nov. 19, 2013. 

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.