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Colombia Reports Anthrax Livestock Deaths and Skin Lesions

Colombia reported livestock deaths from anthrax on two farms in the country’s north near the border with Venezuela as well as a person with skin lesions.

The disease killed goats, sheep and pigs on two farms in the La Guajira community, the first outbreaks in the country since April last year, and a person was found to have skin lesions, according to a notification by the Agriculture Ministry to the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health dated May 28 and published online today.

Anthrax, which has been used as a biological weapon, is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis and can survive in soil decades after an outbreak, according to the animal health group, known by its acronym OIE. Anthrax can cause skin infections that can be treated with antibiotics, as well as more severe lung infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The community has been informed of the protocol to be applied to dispose of the carcasses, mainly the fact that under no circumstances the animals must be either manipulated or consumed,” the OIE wrote. “An intense epidemiological surveillance is being conducted in the area together with the public health authorities.”

Colombia had about 27.8 million cattle and 4.6 million sheep and goats in 2010, according to data from the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization.

The outbreaks are continuing, the OIE wrote. Livestock typically become infected by ingesting spores from the soil or in feed, according to the animal health group.

The bacterial disease killed three goats, three sheep and two pigs held by an indigenous community in La Guajira as well as five goats and three sheep on another farm there, the notice showed. Susceptible species are being vaccinated, the OIE wrote.

People can become infected with anthrax by handling products from sick animals, breathing in spores or by eating undercooked meat from infected animals, according to the CDC. Inhalation anthrax is the most severe form, with about half of the U.S. cases in 2001 ending in death, a CDC briefing shows.

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