Confirmed case of anthrax in Victorian sheep

Biosecurity Alert issued 23 February 2022 by Chief Veterinary Officer, Victoria (update from biosecurity alert of 21 February 2022)

Anthrax was confirmed as a cause of sheep deaths on a property located north-west of Swan Hill on 22 February 2022, in an area where anthrax has been previously detected. The affected property has been quarantined, carcasses safely disposed of, and the sheep on this and surrounding ‘At Risk’ properties have been vaccinated. Tracing and surveillance activities have not identified any other affected properties at this point in time.

Outbreaks of anthrax have occurred in Victoria in recent years, with anthrax cases confirmed near Swan Hill in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and sporadically in the Goulburn Valley. The disease has also been previously reported in Southern Queensland and New South Wales.

This recent diagnosis highlights the need to consider anthrax as a differential diagnosis whenever unexplained sudden death occurs in sheep, cattle or other susceptible species in Victoria, regardless of the location. Grazing herbivores (e.g. cattle and sheep) are infected through ingesting spores present in contaminated soils, while browsers (e.g. deer) may ingest the pathogen on contaminated foliage. Once ingested, the bacteria produces potent toxins that cause the clinical signs of anthrax including fever, inappetence, lethargy or sudden death, often with a blood-stained exudate visible at the nose, mouth and/or anus.

Anthrax is a notifiable disease.

If you suspect anthrax, immediately contact your local Agriculture Victoria Veterinary Officer or phone the all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888.

A screening test (immunochromatographic test - ICT) for anthrax is available for field testing of cattle and sheep carcasses. The ICT must be used before a post-mortem examination is undertaken or the carcass is moved and can only be used by veterinarians who are accredited by Agriculture Victoria.

Contact your local Veterinary Officer if you would like to become accredited to use the ICT.

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