Anthrax, which is caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, affects many species of mammals, but its key victims are herbivores such as cattle, sheep, goats and horses. It can also affect certain bird species. It is a zoonotic disease, which means that in very rare cases, it can be transmitted to humans.
The bacterium is present in soils in the form of a spore that can survive for decades. These spores can rise to the surface, particularly after a period of drought followed by abundant precipitation, but also after earthworks. There they contaminate grass and forage crops ingested by animals.
The importance of anthrax lies in the rapid and sudden mortality that occurs in affected livestock, in its ability to persist and re-emerge after earlier outbreaks, and in its possible transmission to humans through infected animals or their products.
While antibiotics cure the disease, vaccination is the most effective way of limiting its spread among animals.
Regulations require that all suspected cases of animal anthrax be reported to prefectural authorities and samples be sent to the NRL for confirmation of diagnosis.
ANSES’s Maisons-Alfort Laboratory for Animal Health, is the National Reference Laboratory for anthrax. It systematically intervenes to confirm all suspected cases of anthrax in animals. On another front, ANSES’s Nancy Laboratory for Hydrology analyses both drinking water and water used for recreational purposes whenever so requested by health authorities.