Texas wildlife officials have confirmed a case of naturally occurring anthrax in an infected white-tailed deer discovered in southeastern Edwards County.
This is the second confirmed case of anthrax this summer, but it is the first case this year to be recorded in a wild animal. The first case was confirmed in a goat back in June.
Edwards County is in a part of the state where anthrax problems have occurred before. In 2001, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website (www.tpwd.state.tx.us) reported on an outbreak in portions of Val Verde, Uvalde, Kinney, Real and Edwards counties in the southwestern portion of the state.
In other years, sporadic cases in both wildlife and domestic animals have been reported, mainly during the warmer months out of the year. An NPR report from a year ago indicated that over the previous 10 years time, a total of 25 out of the reported 27 anthrax cases in Texas had taken place during the months of June, July, August and September.
According to the TPWD report, anthrax is an infectious disease of mammals, including humans, and one that is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It naturally resides in the soil in many portions of Texas, although it most typically is found in the counties mentioned above.
During the heat of summertime, when weather conditions can change rapidly between periods of monsoonal rains to searing heat and drought, the spores of the bacterium can be found at the surface level of the soil and/or on low-to-the-ground plants that animals, wild or domesticated, may ingest.
Once infected, the disease is reported to be typically fatal in deer and livestock and can be fatal to humans unless they are treated early on with antibiotics.
TPWD reported that the incubation period is between one and 10 days. Once the onset of clinical symptoms occurs (fever, depression, lethargy, staggering, trying to get to water, etc.), infected wildlife and/or livestock tend to die very quickly, often in just a few hours.
While livestock are typically vaccinated in anthrax prone counties, TPWD indicated that human vaccination is not typically recommended. The exception can be individuals thought to be at a high risk of being infected like military personnel in combat zones where the disease may be used as a biological weapon.
According to the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), infected animals are often found dead by landowners with bleeding taking place from the animal's body openings, which is one possible sign of anthrax infection. TAHC also indicates that animal carcasses infected with anthrax also may appear bloated and decompose quickly.
TAHC reports that livestock with symptoms consistent with anthrax should be reported to a private veterinary practice or to a TAHC official. Hunters who suspect that a wild animal has been infected with the disease should contact authorities.
Producers and anyone else coming in contact with a potentially infected animal are encouraged by TAHC to follow basic sanitation precautions such as wearing protective gloves, long sleeve shirts and washing thoroughly afterward to prevent the accidental spread of the bacteria to other people.
“The TAHC will continue to closely monitor the situation for possible new cases across the state," said Dr. T.R. Lansford, TAHC assistant executive director for Animal Health Programs.
"Producers are encouraged to consult their veterinary practitioner or local TAHC office if they have questions about the disease,” he added.
For more information regarding anthrax, contact your local TAHC region office; call 1-800-550-8242; or visit www.tahc.texas.gov.