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WLSB seeks disease info

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Douglas – In the first half of August a man from Minnesota developed inhalation of the lung form of anthrax, and that became a public health issue in western states because he’d recently traveled through the area.

“The focus was looking for cattle anthrax, and he’s a rock collector so he’d been digging in the soil, and the theory was that somehow he’d breathed in an anthrax spore,” said Wyoming State Public Health Veterinarian Karl Musgrave at the Wyoming Livestock Board’s (WLSB) listening session at the Wyoming State Fair on Aug. 17. “The FBI was involved, and I was on conference calls twice a day, because it’s a big deal when someone gets this form of anthrax.”

Musgrave said the anthrax spore can last a long time in the soil, and it’s resistant to heat, cold, sunlight and drying.

“Some research papers say it can last 40 years, or more, and the focus came to Wyoming because we have had cattle anthrax, and they were wondering where the cattle burial grounds are, and whether this guy traveled in those areas,” he explained.

Musgrave said the classic way to find cases of cattle anthrax is to find dead cattle, and the same goes for horses, although dogs are resistant and have even been used as sentinels to find the disease.

“Dogs are sometimes sent out in an area where people think anthrax may be, and they will get an infection, creating antibodies and can be tested for to see if they’ve been exposed to anthrax,” he explained.

To find out when Wyoming has had cases of anthrax, Musgrave said he went through WLSB reports, though he asked for help in developing a more complete map of Wyoming, showing where anthrax has occurred.

Among the incidents he found was one in northeast Laramie County, found through WLSB reports, where 29 head died and most were buried, as well as another in 1955 in Niobrara County and one the same year in Lincoln County.

In addition to the WLSB reports, Musgrave has found cases through newspaper accounts and Center for Disease Control reports, as well as from area ranchers who remember cattle burial grounds.

“These are the type of things I’d like to hear about, because the anthrax spore can last for 40 years or more, and some would say it can last indefinitely under the right conditions,” he stated.

In answering a question as to why anthrax was so prevalent in the 1940s and 1950s, Musgrave said there has been more use of anthrax vaccine in recent years, and that’s why it’s not seen as frequently, though Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan said vets don’t typically recommend vaccinating for anthrax, except in the face of an outbreak.

“It’s not something that’s common enough to worry about vaccinating routinely,” said Logan.

In addition to anthrax, Musgrave said he’s keeping an eye on a strain of rabies that has been moving north from Colorado.

“Skunk rabies had not been seen in Colorado for years, and in 2007 they had their first case in southern Colorado. Within three years it had spread north, and earlier this year we started seeing skunk rabies in Laramie County, and also on Highway 287 south of Laramie,” he explained. “We’ve now had 13 rabid skunks in Cheyenne, and it is moving north. The most recent case was north of I-80, and I do expect it to continue moving north, as it did in Colorado.”

Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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