BROOMFIELD, Colo. (KDVR) – For the first time since 2012, beef cattle in Colorado have been killed by anthrax, a bacterial infection caused by naturally occurring spores in the soil.

Officials with the CSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory confirmed one case on July 23, after a beef producer in Sedgwick County reported a string of seven acute deaths in the herd they managed.

On Tuesday, testing of a nearby herd revealed a second positive anthrax case and now, both herds are being quarantined, treated, and monitored under the guidance of the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the USDA.

The exposed cattle are currently on antibiotics and have since been vaccinated against anthrax.

“Livestock producers in northeast Colorado should monitor their herds for unexplained deaths and work with their veterinarian to ensure appropriate samples are collected and submitted to a diagnostic lab for testing,” Colorado State Veterinarian, Dr. Maggie Baldwin, said.

What does that mean for humans?

According to the CDA, the general public health risk in relation to these confirmed cases is low, but that doesn’t mean non-existent.

The potential for human exposure is heightened during the post-mortem exam of an infected animal. When anthrax bacteria is exposed to air during this procedure, it further infects the area in which the dead animal was found.

Currently, there are two farm employees who may have been exposed during these procedures, alternatively known as field necropsies. They are currently under observation and have been prescribed antibiotics as a precaution.

Why are cows contracting anthrax?

These confirmed cases may have some wondering how a cow can be diagnosed with such an infection.

According to the CDA, anthrax can occur naturally in Colorado’s soil and is caused by the spore-forming bacterium, Bacillus anthracis, which can be found in several areas of Colorado.

These spores typically lie dormant for decades but can resurface and become a problem after periods of flooding, excavation and rain storms.

Anthrax in livestock is typically detected during the middle and later parts of the summer, and primarily in animals that graze. In addition to grazing, infections can occur when the spores are ingested as a result of an exposed water supply.

What to do if you’re a cattle rancher

If you are a beef producer or manage cattle in any facet, consider adopting these methods to keep your livestock healthy and safe:

  • Always monitor your herd for peculiar deaths.
  • Relocate livestock from pastures presumably affected.
  • Properly dispose of potentially affected carcasses and avoid further soil contamination.
  • Always be proactive and discuss vaccination plans with your veterinarian.
  • Report suspected cases to the State’s Veterinarian’s Office.

Anthrax is a reportable disease, so be certain to call the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s State Veterinarian’s Office at (303) 869-9130 if you have any strange deaths, as this is a disease that people are susceptible to.