Department: Agriculture



Anthrax is a highly contagious disease of domestic and wild animals which can affect humans

         Animals usually die suddenly without any symptoms of illness

         There is, however, an effective vaccine to prevent the disease

         The correct handling of affected carcasses will also prevent the spread of the disease

What causes anthrax?

The disease is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. When animals die of anthrax and particularly when carcasses are cut open, resistant spores are formed which can survive in the soil for many years. The bloody discharge from the nostrils, mouth and anus, as well as skin, bone and other tissue is important in the spreading of the disease.

Scavengers, vultures and even flies play
an important role in the spreading of these
resistant spores. Runoff water can also disperse
the spores to pans or dams and create concentrated
sources of infection in other areas.

The infection is usually acquired by drinking contaminated
water, grazing on contaminated pastures or when animals
lick contaminated skins, bones, blood or carcasses.

Can animals or humans be treated for the disease?

         Animals often die before the disease can be diagnosed or the animals treated

         Humans and resistant animals, such as pigs, dogs and horses can, however, be treated with antibiotics

Consult your doctor if contact with anthrax is suspected



         Vaccinate livestock annually against anthrax

         Do not cut open carcasses of animals which have died if anthrax is suspected

         Bury these carcasses at a depth of at least 2 metres and treat the soil liberally with chloride of lime

         Carcasses may also be burnt without cutting them open

         Report suspected cases immediately to the nearest animal health technician or state veterinarian

         The state veterinarian may prescribe methods to disinfect the premises, transport vehicles and other products


         The carcasses of affected animals should never be eaten!!

         Avoid direct contact with a carcass of an animal suspected to have died of anthrax. Always wear protective clothing when the carcass is buried or burnt

What are the symptoms of anthrax?

         Animals may die within 2 hours without showing any signs of illness (sudden death) 


         Difficult breathing

         Muscle tremors and redness of the mucous membranes may be observed

         Blood-stained discharge from the nostrils, mouth and anus

         Advanced cases may have a swelling of the throat and neck. This could lead to breathing problems and difficulty in swallowing

How can anthrax be diagnosed?

Anthrax is diagnosed by microscopic examination of a bloodsmear. Consult your local veterinarian or animal health technician in this regard

Never cut open the carcass or eat the meat of an animal that has died suddenly!!

How do humans contract the disease?

         Direct contact with affected animals or animal products

         Inhaling dust which contains spores

         Ingesting infected meat

Although people normally contract a skin form of the disease, death may occur in humans as a result of anthrax


Anthrax can be prevented with the cooperation of every farmer!!
If anthrax is suspected carcasses should never be handled, cut open or eaten!! 

For further information contact your nearest state veterinarian
or animal health technician


Directorate Veterinary Services
Private Bag X138, Pretoria 0001

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Compiled by the
Directorate Communication, Department of Agriculture
in cooperation with the
Directorate Veterinary Services

Printed and published by the Department of Agriculture
and obtainable from the
Resource Centre, Directorate Communication
Private Bag X144, Pretoria 0001, South Africa