Stock in northern Victoria will be tested by a veterinary scientist from DEPI who is on a quest to reduce the risk of the fatal disease anthrax in Australia.May 27, 2014 3:00am
Stock in northern Victoria will be tested by a veterinary scientist from DEPI who is on a quest to reduce the risk of the fatal disease anthrax in Australia.
In the most recent outbreak in the Goulburn Valley, in February 2007, 37 cattle died and 35
DEPI veterinary officer Kelly Porter recently received the CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship Award in the 2014 Department of Agriculture’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture.
‘‘Anthrax is a serious, usually fatal disease in livestock caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that can lie dormant in soils for decades,’’ Dr Porter said.
‘‘It has the ability to infect animals, causing devastating outcomes for livestock producers and can also become a public health risk as human infection can occur when people come in contact with an infected carcase.’’
Anthrax is an acute disease caused by infection from bacterium spores that exist within soil, and usually occurs when long-buried bacteria is exposed by heavy rainfall or earthmoving activities such as road or channel building.
The disease occurs suddenly in cattle and sheep, with affected animals often found dead despite having shown no previous signs of illness.
Dr Porter said her research and fascination with anthrax led her to discover just how much remained unknown about the disease, its occurrence, how it was able to survive in the environment and how it interacted with Australian livestock and wildlife.
‘‘It is thought that factors such as climatic conditions, heavy rain, soil dynamics, flooding and farming activities can bring anthrax spores towards top soil layers, exposing them to grazing livestock.
‘‘Once an animal is infected, the bacteria produce damaging toxins which harm cells throughout the body, usually resulting in rapid death.
‘‘Current vaccines are effective and in most instances will protect livestock.
‘‘However, the sporadic and unpredictable nature of anthrax incidents means that the majority of producers do not routinely vaccinate.’’
Dr Porter said the award included a financial grant that provided her with the opportunity to further her research towards reducing the risk of anthrax in Victoria.
‘‘Previous research has shown some livestock may be able to develop an effective immune response in the days following infection, a trait which may hold the key to minimising the impact of future outbreaks.
‘‘Throughout this new research I will be testing the blood of livestock in northern Victoria to determine whether they have been exposed to anthrax at non-lethal levels and have a potential immunity to the disease.
‘‘Identifying livestock that possess resistance to anthrax will minimise the impact of an outbreak as it will allow producers to strategically vaccinate at-risk livestock.
‘‘It will also provide guidance towards containing an outbreak, help predict where future emergence may occur and improve our understanding of the disease.’’
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