Anthrax and the 3 S’s

| October 27, 2001 | 0 Comments


By Will Verboven
Anthrax is one of those hot words that strikes instant fear into many citizens. That fear seems to have come to the attention of real and wannabe terrorists and the usual collection of copycat nut cases – particularly after September 11th.

Those warped individuals have been mailing Anthrax spores to various people and organisations in the USA in the hope of either spreading the disease or instigating a mass panic.

Neither is likely to happen but the fallout may well affect consumer attitudes in North America towards meat. It will only add to the psychological damage already done to beef consumption by BSE and Foot and Mouth disease.

The North American media spent many months whipping those two diseases into spectres of doom.

Incredibly, thanks to media hype, the majority of consumers believed those two diseases actually existed on this continent.

But why does Anthrax strike such fear into the hearts of citizens? It is true that under certain circumstances and at certain levels of infection it is fatal to humans.

But such conditions are rare. The reality is that Anthrax is a very old disease in North America and spores are in the soil virtually everywhere – particularly in western North America.

That’s because the vast herds of Bison that existed until about 120 years ago were carriers of Anthrax.

Untold thousands died from the disease over the millennia and their diseased remains deposited the Anthrax spores over most of the western part of the continent. The spores seem to have a very long lifespan and come to life whenever the soil is disturbed under certain climatic conditions.

Anthrax is also more common than the average citizen realises. Last year 30 head of cattle died from Anthrax northwest of Calgary and this year six died southeast of the city. In both cases cattle were grazing near riverbanks that had collapsed and released spores from the remains of ancient diseased bison. Other outbreaks have occurred on a regular basis in the northern plains of the USA.

The 3 S’s
A government veterinarian has stated that Anthrax is probably under reported in North American livestock because single deaths are rarely of concern and producers usually do not send in tissue samples of those animals for lab diagnosis.

Also, unless there is a significant loss, few producers want their cattle herd reputation tainted by any connection to Anthrax. This is particularly true for those involved in the purebred business. It’s been said that the 3 S principle (shoot, shovel and shut up) covers up many such disease cases.

Then again it’s hard to determine whether deranged terrorists are just plain stupid or are very media smart. Although Anthrax spores are easy to reproduce in a laboratory, they are fairly difficult to spread in the correct dosage to affect the general population.

Yet whether the current Anthrax letter campaign is effective or not matters little – when measured against the high level of media hysteria and public anxiety that has already been created. The terrorists and lunatics win either way.


Category: Animal Health

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