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Ranchers warned about increased anthrax risk

LAWTON, Okla._Agricultural officials are warning Oklahoma ranchers about the threat of anthrax.

The recent flooding in Oklahoma has prompted the alert. Anthrax is a bacterial infection that is seen yearly in the Midwest. The infection is commonly found in cattle, but humans are also able to contract the infection.

First and foremost, the veterinarian we spoke with wants to stress this is not the type of anthrax people think of that is often used for terrorism. While this anthrax can be harmful to people, it is difficult for humans to contract and more often threatens livestock when the bacteria in inhaled or consumed from the soil.

The last known case of anthrax in Oklahoma was in 1996. Veterinarian and assistant professor Dr. Thomas Reece says that this year, Mother Nature has caused the threat to resurface.

"It typically occurs when you have a flooding situation that follows a drought. The heavy rains will wash the bacteria to that is deep in the ground to the surface, so we have a risk factor of exposure, the risk factor has increased," explained Dr. Reece.

Reece says signs of an anthrax infected animal are hard to detect since a diseased animal can die within hours of infection.

"The only consistent sign for anthrax is sudden unexplained death," said Dr. Reece.

Even worse, he says there is no way for a rancher to prevent cattle from getting the disease. There is a vaccine that can be administered, but only in the event of a mass outbreak.

"In case of an outbreak, they will readily approve it, but it is not routinely used," explained Dr. Reece.

Reece says in order to prevent an outbreak from happening, ranchers need to be responsible and monitor their animals.

"Simply just continue to check your livestock and monitor them," said Dr. Reece.

Reece says the infection is primarily seen in adult cattle. If you have any suspicions or believe you have infected cattle, you are asked to contact your local veterinarian or the state veterinarian at 405-522-0270.

Once an animal has become infected, it must be killed and disposed of properly, which includes burning the carcass or burying it at least six feet underground.

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