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In the UK, all cases of unexplainable sudden death have to be reported to the Divisional Veterinary Office, so that a decision can be made whether the animal is to be tested for anthrax as sudden unexplained death is the most common presentation of anthrax in cattle.

However, although the number of cases of sudden death has increased there have been no cases of anthrax in cattle for over three years. However, it is important that owners and stock people are aware of anthrax, as contact with animals or animal products is, despite the recent American outbreak, still the most important cause of human anthrax.

Clinical Signs

  • Sudden death (often within 2 or 3 hours of being apparently normal) is by far the most common sign
  • Very occasionally some animals may show trembling, a high temperature, difficulty breathing, collapse and convulsions before death. This usually occurs over a period of 24 hours
  • After death blood may not clot, resulting in a small amount of bloody discharge from the nose, mouth and other openings


  • On the clinical signs described above
  • Rod-shaped bacteria surrounded by a capsule are visible in blood smears made from surface blood vessels
  • Post-mortem examinations should not be undertaken on suspected anthrax cases (including any cow that has died suddenly for no apparent reason) until a blood smear has proved negative)
  • If a carcass is opened accidentally, the spleen is usually swollen and there is bloodstained fluid in all body cavities Suspected anthrax cases are covered by the Anthrax Order 1991 (which replaced the Order of 1938). Any suspicion of the disease must be notified to the DEFRA Divisional Veterinary Manager (DVM), who if they see fit will instigate a veterinary enquiry to determine whether anthrax is present on the farm. Usually the DVM will arrange a visit (often by the owner fs own vet) to take a blood sample to look for bacteria with capsules. The animal or carcass must not be moved before this has been done, fines will be levied if movement does occur. If the tests prove negative, the veterinarian will send in a certificate stating this and nothing further will happen. If anthrax is still suspected then orders banning movement and requiring disinfection will be instigated.


  • Due to the rapidity of the disease treatment is seldom possible
  • High doses of penicillin have been effective in the later stages of some outbreaks


Infection is usually acquired through the ingestion of contaminated soil, fodder or compound feed. Sterilisation of meat and bone meal used in animal feed (and more recently its complete removal from cattle feed) has been the main factor responsible for the rarity of anthrax in the UK over the last few years.Â
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