The incident of anthrax infection was confirmed by Public Health England. Health authorities in the U.K. have confirmed that the cause of infection was quickly detected after samples were taken from the deceased animal. This was the first case of anthrax in the U.K. since 2008.
The low rate of cases does not negate the need for surveillance. Speaking with the BBC, British Veterinary Association President Sean Wensley noted: “This is a case in point about why surveillance is so important; local vets working as part of the broader surveillance network, detecting individual cases for immediate action to isolate and contain them.”
On discovering that the cow was infected, the carcass was incinerated and temporary restrictions on the movement of other cattle from the farm have been put into place. In addition a public footpath through the farm has been closed.
The health agency has assured members of the public that the risk of infection, even for people who came into close contact with the cow, is low.
Anthrax is a bacterial disease. These days the disease mainly affects grazing animals. However, any species of mammal, including humans, are susceptible. The disease is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. The bacterium is an endospore forming bacterium, which means when it moves from the vegetative state to the spore state it can survive in a state of hibernation for years. When conditions are optimal, the spore can germinate and the bacterium enters a viable state and becomes infectious.
Infections are causes through the release of toxins. There are three main ways by which someone can become infected:
Cutaneous (via skin). This causes a localized, inflammatory, black, necrotic lesion (eschar).
Pulmonary (via lungs). This is a fatal form, associated with a massive chest edema followed by cardiovascular shock.
Gastrointestinal (ingestion). This is rare but similarly fatal.
Anthrax infections are common in some parts of the world, such as Africa and South America. Treatment is via antibiotics.