Publication - Advice and guidance

Anthrax: how to spot and report the disease

Published: 29 Oct 2018

Advice on what to do if you suspect there is an outbreak of this infectious disease.

Published:
29 Oct 2018
Anthrax: how to spot and report the disease

Anthrax affects mammals and some species of birds. These include cattle, pigs, horses, sheep and humans.

Latest situation: the last outbreak in livestock in Great Britain was in 2015.

Clinical signs

In cattle and sheep

Cattle and sheep can die quickly from anthrax, but their carcasses may show no obvious signs of the disease.

The length of the illness varies and some animals may have signs of illness for several days before death.

In such cases the main clinical signs are:

  • high temperature, shivering or twitching
  • harsh dry cough
  • blood in dung or in nostrils
  • decrease or complete loss of milk
  • fits
  • bright staring eyes
  • colicky pains
  • dejection and loss of appetite

In pigs and horses

Anthrax can cause death in pigs and horses, though less quickly than in cattle and sheep.

The main clinical signs are:

  • hot, painful swellings in the throat area
  • sudden colic pain in horses
  • loss of appetite in pigs
If you suspect signs of any notifiable diseases, you must immediately notify your Scotland: field service local office at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Failure to do so is an offence. 

How anthrax is spread

Anthrax is spread when its spores are inhaled, ingested, or come into contact with skin lesions.

The spores can survive for decades or even centuries.

They are found on infected animal carcasses, wool, hair and hides.

If anthrax is confirmed, there are legal powers to control the spread of the disease during an outbreak.

If you think your animals will be continually exposed to anthrax, for example, after an outbreak, talk to your vet about using an antibiotic or a vaccine.

Your local authority will pay for the disposal of any diseased carcasses.

Human health implications

Anthrax can affect humans and the symptoms begin with a flu-like illness.

This is then followed by respiratory difficulties.

Direct contact with anthrax can cause raised boil-like lesions on the skin which develop a black centre. This skin infection normally responds to early treatment with antibiotics.

If you inhale anthrax spores, they can cause damage to the lungs, which is often fatal.

Legislation

The main domestic legislation on anthrax is The Anthrax Order of 1991.

Biosecurity

Biosecurity is about being aware of the ways disease can spread and taking every practical measure to minimise the risk of disease spreading. The advice details practical things you can do on your farm to help prevent the introduction and spread of anthrax to and from your animals.

Contact

If you suspect signs of any notifiable diseases, you must immediately notify your Scotland: field service local office at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). Failure to do so is an offence.