JEFFERSON CITY - The bacterium anthrax which is getting global attention is no stranger to farmers and ranchers in the western half of the country -- including Missouri.
According to the Agriculture Department's public information officer, Sally Oxenhandler, Missouri's livestock could spread anthrax,
"There is the potential for spores to crop up in Missouri's livestock," she said.
Spores of the disease, which are to blame for several deaths in the country and are the cause for widespread panic throughout the United States, occur in soil throughout the world. According to the USDA, this form of anthrax may be spread from animals to humans.
Aside from the recent scares of anthrax sent through the mail, outbreaks among livestock include those in cattle and horses in Minnesota in June 2000, North Dakota in August 2000 and in Nebraska earlier this year.
The last case in Missouri was decades ago, according to the department.
This intestinal form of anthrax in livestock is caused by a bacteria which multiplies and turns into spores when it is exposed to oxygen.
The occurrence of this bacteria may be related to high levels of soil nitrogen and organic content, alkaline soil and temperatures in the ground higher than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Animals are affected when they ingest contaminated food or water, especially when eating directly from the soil during grazing or from feed grown on contaminated ground.
According to Oxenhandler, outbreaks of anthrax increase after droughts when animals must graze closer to the ground and after floods when the spores multiply in standing water.
"We have not had an anthrax case in Missouri in probably decades," said David Hopson, the state's acting veterinarian. "The last cases were down in the boothill probably coming in from the Mississippi River."
Therefore, Oxenhandler said, "Right now, there is no cause for concern."