Anthrax outbreak in cattle no threat to public health, officials say

RENO - State and county officials on Friday assured the public that an anthrax outbreak among cattle at a ranch near Gerlach posed no public health risk.

''There is no danger to the citizens of Gerlach or the surrounding area,'' Washoe District Health Officer Barbara Hunt said. ''This will not affect the water supply.''

The anthrax bacteria is common in the livestock industry, said state Veterinarian David Thain.

''This has been a livestock disease for eons,'' he said.

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by spore-forming bacteria.

Under the right conditions, Thain said the spores can survive in soil for decades. Outbreaks generally occur when the spores are brought to the surface and ingested by livestock.

Heavy rains are the usual cause. In this case, officials believe the bacteria was spread onto pasture land when workers at the ranch cleaned out irrigation ditches.

Thirty head of cattle died at the ranch near Gerlach, a small community on the edge of the Black Rock Desert 100 miles north of Reno.

''We feel pretty comfortable that we have the current outbreak under control,'' Thain said. ''All the animals in the area have been vaccinated and moved to another field.''

The dead cows were buried in accordance with recommendations of the World Health Organization.

''The ideal method is to burn them, but in this case that was impractical,'' Thain said.

Health officials said only workers who came in direct contact with the dead animals were at risk of contracting the disease. They were advised to see a doctor.

''There must be direct contact made with the carcass in order for a person to contract the illness,'' Hunt said. ''Persons walking in the vicinity of the cows would not be affected.''

If the bacteria is inhaled, symptoms of exposure resemble a cold and may progress to severe breathing problems and shock. On the skin, anthrax begins as a small, itchy irritation, develops into a fluid-filled blister and progresses to a deep, black ulcer.

The disease is treated with antibiotics but can cause death in severe, untreated cases.

Officials also plan to spray the area with insecticide to prevent flies and other insects that may have come in contact with the dead animals from spreading the disease.

However, health officials said its highly unlikely a person would contract the disease from an insect bite.

Thain said anthrax bacteria found in nature is not in the same form as that associated with biologicial terrorism.

''The biological weapon version .. they break it down so it will float through the air,'' he said.


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