Weather conditions throughout much of cattle country are setting the stage for a possible resurgence of anthrax, says Charlie Stoltenow, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian. A South Dakota case in April and another in Minnesota in early July means all cattlemen need to be on the alert.

"In our experience, these wet, then dry, hot weather pattern cycles set up environmental conditions that favor the occurrence of anthrax in the region," Stoltenow says.

Anthrax occurs all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada's Northwest Territories, Stoltenow says, and is spread by soil-borne spores. The spores can reside in the soil for 50 years or more. Extremely dry conditions and very wet conditions create an environment that allows anthrax spores to come to the soil surface and be picked up by cattle and other animals.

An animal that contracts anthrax dies very quickly, so if you have an unexplained death in your cattle, contact a veterinarian right away and don't handle the carcass. If an animal has anthrax and the carcass is cut or split open, spores will form in 4-6 hours, Stoltenow says. "If you have anthrax, we want those carcasses burned, and burned quickly," he says. "We don't want to just bury a carcass because all we're doing is seeding it down for the next 50 years."

The disease is easily controlled with an inexpensive vaccine, and Stoltenow encourages producers to consider vaccinating their cattle. "Invariably, when we have cases of anthrax, it's in unvaccinated animals. The vaccine works extremely well and cattle are just too expensive to watch them tip over out there."

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