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FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

FAO calls for more robust anthrax prevention measures

FAO is calling for strengthened prevention measures against anthrax, following reports of outbreaks among reindeer, cattle and horses in northern Europe over the past summer.

The new issue of EMPRES Watch provides analysis of the status of anthrax worldwide, and recommends measures to prevent outbreaks among animals as well as transmission of the deadly disease to humans.

Anthrax is a zoonotic disease caused by the gram-positive spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It primarily affects domestic and wild herbivores (such as cattle, sheep, goats, bison, deer, antelope and hippopotamus), and in those species it is usually fatal. It is distributed globally and remains enzootic in many regions of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Large outbreaks in animals, known as “epizootics,” occur every year, resulting in the deaths of hundreds or thousands of animals and transmission of the disease to humans.

Anthrax outbreaks in reindeer in the Russian Federation, and in cattle and horse in Sweden, were reported in July-August 2016. The outbreaks in Russia resulted in over 2 600 animal cases, and cases in people who had contact with the infected animals. They occurred in an area where anthrax had not been reported for 75 years or more, proving the persistence of the pathogen in the soil and pointing to a need for vaccination services.

Many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia – including Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – consistently report animal and human anthrax cases occurring mainly on border areas, the report said.

FAO is calling upon countries to strengthen their surveillance and prevention measures to protect both animals and humans.


  • Surveillance, vaccination of livestock and proper disposal of livestock carcasses are the most efficient ways of preventing and controlling anthrax infection in domestic herds, which also limits its transmission to humans. 
  • Field data on the characteristics of the pathogen, its ecology and determinants of its natural occurrence should be available for veterinary services and livestock producers to identify areas where livestock cases of anthrax are likely to occur, and to guide vaccination and public awareness programmes. 
  • Field veterinarians should be prepared to diagnose anthrax on the spot, or have good liaison with laboratory services to ensure rapid diagnosis. 
  • Veterinary services and public health authorities should cooperate to integrate disease surveillance data. 
  • Anthrax can be prevented in livestock species through vaccination. The vaccine may also be used to stop an ongoing outbreak. 
  • Appropriate and safe disposal of dead animals, bedding and other contaminated materials, and subsequent disinfection and decontamination of all possible surfaces that can harbour anthrax spores, are key steps in limiting the spread of anthrax and contamination of the environment.
  • Increased public awareness and observation of principles of general hygiene, including use of personal protective measures by people who may have contact with diseased or dead animals.

“These outbreaks highlight the need for strong veterinary services and for vigilance in preventing anthrax,” said Andriy Rozstalnyy, animal production and health officer with FAO’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia. “We have had the tools to control this disease for over a century, and the ability to control anthrax could serve as a benchmark for veterinary services.”

5 October 2016, Budapest, Hungary 

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