Anthrax has been detected on a property in northeast Val Verde County, one of 18 cases found in Texas so far this year, state health officials said.
A “Texas Anthrax Situational Update” issued Thursday by the Texas Animal Health Commission notes 18 premises is five Texas counties to date have animals confirmed with anthrax.
The five counties lie in an “anthrax triangle” where anthrax is historically found. That area includes portions of Crockett, Edwards, Maverick, Uvalde, Val Verde and Zavala counties, and is centered mainly in Kinney County.
So far this year, the animal health commission has confirmed nine anthrax cases in Sutton County, three in Uvalde County, four in Crockett Count and one apiece in Kinney County and in Val Verde County.
A spokesman for the animal health commission told the Del Rio News-Herald Thursday, “Historically, we see one to five cases a year, so this year is above average as far as number of impacted premises goes.”
“It is common to see an increase in anthrax cases after periods of wet, cool weather followed by hot, dry conditions. During these conditions, animals ingest the anthrax bacteria when they consume contaminated grass and hay or inhale the spores. Outbreaks usually end when cooler weather arrives,” the animal health commission reported.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Anthrax is a serious infectious disease caused by ... bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax can be found naturally in soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world. Although it is rare in the United States, people can get sick with anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products.”
Val Verde County producers, including County Commissioner Pct. 1 Martin Wardlaw, are no strangers to the devastation caused by the disease.
“It’s been here for at least a century, but they think it came in by feeding bone meal to livestock, bone meal from sick cattle that came out of Africa. That’s what they’re guessing,” Wardlaw said.
He said he and his family, who own and operate the White Ranch off the Dolan Falls Road in north central Val Verde County, have always dealt with anthrax.
“When I was little, my daddy would send all of us kids to the house because they’d be vaccinating the livestock, and it was so dangerous, they wouldn’t let us be out there with them. They were afraid we would get it, and they were out there with masks and everything, trying to keep from breathing it in. We’ve always known it was a danger,” the commissioner said.
He said 10 to 15 years ago, a major anthrax outbreak in Val Verde County “hit us hard and killed a lot of deer.”
“Weather brings it on. Real wet followed by hot and dry, like right now,” Wardlaw said.
He said last Christmas, his sons bought three bulls, unloaded them at the ranch and within six days, one of the new animals died of anthrax.
Wardlaw said to combat the disease, “we vaccinate everything – cattle, sheep, goats, horses.”
“Anything that’s not vaccinated is subject to dying,” Wardlaw added.
Wardlaw said the ranch manager, his son George, has also found a number of dead deer on the property this year.
“We’ve been working sheep last week and cattle this week, and we’ve been on horseback when we found them, and when you find them, you have to burn them,” he said.
He said several weeks ago, “you could drive through the pastures and just smell the decomposing bodies out there in the brush.”
Wardlaw said he believes education is key in protecting the county’s producers.
“There are so many people that didn’t vaccinate,” Wardlaw said.
Wardlaw also wondered aloud if some kind of vaccine could be developed for wild herbivores like deer and antelope.
He noted anthrax deaths among deer will also affect ranchers because many – including the White Ranch – run large and profitable hunting operations in addition to their livestock operations.
Wardlaw said although he and his ranch crew exercise caution, anthrax is a threat he has learned to deal with.
“Anybody that’s grown up with it, like we have, is not surprised (at the outbreak), is not overwhelmed,” he said.
He said his son George “caught a mild case” when he had to cut open an infected animal to secure a sample of lung tissue for testing.
“He had to take massive amounts of antibiotics,” Wardlaw said.
For more information about anthrax, visit www.tahc.texas.gov/news/brochures/TAHCBrochure.Anthrax.pdf