Dr. Kim Hammond, the Chief Medical Officer and Founder of Falls Road Animal Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland Answers Questions About Anthrax
BALTIMORE, Aug. 9, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Colorado officials have confirmed that one cow has died of anthrax and 50 dead cattle were exposed to the disease on a ranch northeast in Logan County, Colorado. Colorado officials say it’s the first case of anthrax in the state in 31 years.
Dr. Kim Hammond, the Chief Medical Officer and founder of Falls Road Animal Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland says people outside of the infected area don’t need to go into “crisis mode” and is answering the public’s questions about anthrax in animals and its possible spread to humans.
“Anthrax is a disease of warm-blooded animals, including man, most livestock and some wildlife,” says Dr. Hammond, “and is caused by the spore-forming bacteria Bacillus anthracis. Animals that feed on plants are highly susceptible to anthrax, while carnivorous birds and reptiles are resistant.”
Dr. Hammond explains that anthrax is a “naturally occurring” disease. It’s much more common in tropical countries, such as Africa, South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. However, it is also common in many areas of the United States.
In the last couple of years anthrax deaths have occurred in deer and cattle in Southwest Texas counties along the Rio Grande River. In recent years, it’s also been diagnosed in livestock in California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Canada, and most likely other states as well.
“One theory about how anthrax came west is that many areas of the country were ‘seeded’ with anthrax spores during the great cattle drives of the 1800′s,” he said.
Anthrax primarily occurs in regions with alkaline soils with a high nitrogen level caused by decaying vegetation, alternating periods of rain and drought, and temperatures in excess of 60 degrees F. Such areas are referred to as “incubator areas.” But the real question on everyone’s mind is what does this anthrax death mean for humans?
“Yes, these are the same anthrax as the spores used for biological warfare,” says Dr. Hammond. “However, spores in the soil are not generally ingested or inhaled by man. These anthrax spores do not ‘float in the air’ in abundance like the ‘germ warfare’ types. If you are not in the infected area you don’t need to worry.”
How do humans know if they’ve been infected? Dr. Hammond says symptoms of the disease in humans vary depending on how the disease was contracted. Symptoms usually occur within seven days.
Most anthrax infections occur when the bacterium enters a cut or abrasion on the skin, such as when handling contaminated wool, hides, leather or hair products of infected animals. A skin infection begins as a raised itchy bump that resembles an insect bite but within 1-2 days develops into a painless ulcer. If left untreated, other symptoms like swollen glands, fever and fatigue often develop after several days. About 20 percent of untreated cases of anthrax from cuts will result in death, but deaths are rare with appropriate antibiotics.
The symptoms are different if someone inhales anthrax. When anthrax is inhaled the symptoms may resemble a common cold and include a cough, chills and aches. After several days however, the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock. If left untreated, inhaled anthrax is usually fatal.
The intestinal disease form of anthrax may follow the consumption of undercooked and contaminated meat. Initial signs of contamination by eating include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and fever, followed by abdominal pain. However, the chances that anthrax will contaminate our food supplies is very small and Colorado officials say none of the infected animals left the ranch.
The relatively short incubation time of the disease in animals, coupled with the quick death, all work to insure that meat from diseased animals would likely not enter the food chain in any form. Under no circumstances should meat from infected animals be consumed.
Again the most common initial sign of anthrax is sudden death. The course of the disease is usually short — one to three days, said Dr. Hammond. Once an outbreak begins, animals may be seen with fever, lack of grazing, excitement followed by depression, difficult breathing, uncoordinated movements, convulsions and death. A veterinarian can confirm anthrax by taking blood from a peripheral vein and submitting it to a diagnostic laboratory.
An anthrax vaccine is available, and may be used as part of a containment procedure if an outbreak should occur in livestock. However, routine vaccination of livestock for anthrax is not generally a recommended practice, except in those areas where anthrax has historically been a problem.
The anthrax vaccine for humans has been available for many years. It was first developed in the 1950′s and 1960′s. However, currently it is only available to persons who work directly with the organism in the laboratory and military personnel deployed to areas with high risk for exposure to the organism.
A large multi-doctor practice, Falls Road Animal Hospital has been serving the Baltimore area for over 30 years. We practice aggressive medicine and offer a full complement of ancillary diagnostic equipment including endoscopy, ultrasonography and a modern in-house laboratory. Our sick patients are closely monitored in a separate Intensive Care Unit. We offer three surgical suites for soft tissue and orthopedic procedures (including bone plating) accommodate a diversity of surgical cases. We serve a diverse client base including dogs, cats, exotics and wildlife. Two full-time emergency doctors complement our staff providing 24-hour care. We voluntarily have our hospital evaluated by a consultant who makes sure we meet or exceed the association’s high veterinary hospital standards. For more information please visit us on the web at www.fallsroad.com.
SOURCE Falls Road Animal Hospital