More Than 700 Animals Die Of Anthrax In Canada
By Tim Cook
REGINA (CP) -- An outbreak of anthrax has killed hundreds of farm animals in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and has ranchers in affected areas scrambling to make sure their livestock are protected from the naturally occurring but deadly bacterial disease.
As of this week, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency had reported anthrax had been found on 17 farms in Manitoba and 118 animals had died. Hardest hit, however, was Saskatchewan and a large area to the east of Saskatoon, where 615 animals have died on 123 different farms since the outbreak was first noticed a month ago.
It's the largest recorded anthrax outbreak on the Prairies, said Dr. Sandra Stephens, a veterinarian with the agency.
"This would be the largest number and involve the largest area that we would have recorded history for - back to the 1950s," she said.
Public health officials are quick to point out that the risk to humans is extremely low.
When a farm has a positive test for anthrax, it is placed under quarantine and the animals are kept out of the food chain. Animals in the affected areas are being vaccinated to prevent further losses.
"It's more of an animal health issue than a human health issue," said Dr. Huiming Yang, Saskatchewan's deputy chief medical health officer.
Still there is a fear that the anthrax label will be bad for business because of a misinformed concern that this disease is somehow associated with the white powder that was sent through the mail in the U.S. in recent years.
Donald Connell raises bison on his farm near Rose Valley Sask., and has lost 27 animals to the disease, including three of his highly-valued breeding bulls.
Connell said the value of the animals is one thing, but he is worried that the disease could create fear in the public, like during the early days of the mad cow crisis.
"It isn't anything to worry about . . . I'd just like people to get that," Connell said. "It's ridiculous. It's the name of the thing that scares everybody."
Stephens said people need to realize that anthrax is something that exists naturally in the environment.
"This is field anthrax, it's an environmental disease," she said. "This is something that civilization has been dealing with for centuries and we will continue to live with for years to come."
Anthrax is caused by spore-forming bacteria contained in the soil throughout the Prairies.
Outbreaks are related to particular environmental conditions - heavy rain followed by a period of drought. The rain brings the spores to the surface and, as the soil dries, the spores are left on the grass where they can be ingested by grazing farm animals.
It's not spread from animal to animal or person to person.
There are three forms of anthrax infection in humans - skin, gastrointestinal and inhalation - and all are rare.
Return to Current Events Category Menu