Anthrax not a threat

By Ben Ingram

After the number of confirmed anthrax cases in Saskatchewan doubled from 2009 to 2010, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been reminding livestock producers to have their herds vaccinated.

Across the province, CFIA has documented outbreaks on 170 farms since 2006. A government communications campaign began this March intending to raise awareness of the highly fatal disease.

But despite the threat anthrax poses to all mammals, including humans, residents in Meadow Lake can take solace in the fact that there has never been a confirmed case in the region.

“I can say that we don’t have any records of previous cases of anthrax in that immediate area,” Betty Althouse, a Veterinary Program Specialist with CFIA, said.

According to her, livestock producers should consult their veterinarian about any concerns as local conditions vary widely in Saskatchewan, despite the province having the highest rate of anthrax in Canada.

“Certainly, they should think about anthrax risk and think about the possibility of vaccination, but to make that risk assessment based on local conditions and consultation with a veterinarian,” Althouse said.

Meadow Lake veterinarian Ed LaBrash is no stranger to questions about the vaccines.

“We still send samples when we have suspect cases, but until I see a case within a 100 km radius of Meadow Lake, I won’t really get excited about it,” LaBrash said.

According to him, anthrax requires an alkaline soil to survive. Since the region tends to have a rather acidic soil, the area is simply too hostile an environment for the spores.

LaBrash said he’s been asked about the Beaver River, which goes through several cattle grazing areas and may transport anthrax spores.

“As far as I know, heading that way (north) isn’t really the issue, it’s east and southeast,” he said.

Beyond eating from infected soil, animals can ingest anthrax spores through hay bales and dust. The tolerant spores can easily be spread through water as well, meaning that flooding across the province could precipitate a rise in infections.

“All you’ve got to do is get animals to walk through and stir up the mud,” LaBrash said. “Those spores settle into the grazing area. Later on in the year when the grass runs short, those cows get close to the ground and start picking the spores up.”

Despite this, LaBrash claims there has never been a case of anthrax in the Meadow Lake area.

“We’re in a bit of a niche, a narrow pocket in the northwest corner. I’ll sell anyone the vaccine if they want, but until I see one case I’m not going to really push it. It’s up to the owner’s discretion.”

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