Be Aware – Anthrax
There were headlines on 6 February, 2007 about an anthrax outbreak and a meat worker being hospitalised (The Herald Sun, Feb 6, 2007).  The following is a Newsletter produced by the OHS Officer at the Meatworkers Union (AMIEU) for that union's members.

So what is anthrax?

It is a serious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores. A bacterium is a very small organism made up of one cell. Many bacteria can cause diseases. A spore is a cell that is dormant (asleep) but may come to life with the right conditions. There are three types of anthrax, depending on how it gets in:

  • skin (cutaneous)
  • lungs (inhalation)
  • digestive (gastrointestinal).

Farmers rarely observe signs of anthrax in pastured cattle that have died. They are generally unaware of the presence of anthrax and attribute the death to other diseases. It is not uncommon for the first signs of anthrax being present on a farm to be when a person develops anthrax from butchering an infected carcass.

If animals have been infected but been sent to an abattoir when they are still able to walk in, there could be risk. There can be risk also from carcasses being sent to knackeries or skin sheds or for rendering to produce blood and bone. Does your abattoir get crackers directly from dairy farms in the Stanhope area? Or does the skin shed or rendering get the carcases from around Shepparton? If so, read on.

Be Aware.

When the animals get anthrax it is usually by eating the grass roots in an area where the spores are in the ground and it is hot and dry. It is less common but they could get the disease by breathing in spores in the dust or getting in through skin wounds from grass seeds. Initially the disease develops slowly, but once the anthrax bacilli get into the blood they multiply quickly and continue until the death of the animal.

A Zoonotic Disease

As an occupational disease for workers it is mostly a skin infection from contact with the infected animals, their by-products or infected soil. It is less common but could come from breathing in the spores in dust or getting it into the mouth and swallowed.

The symptoms (warning signs) of anthrax are different depending on the type of the disease:

  • Skin: The first symptom is a small sore that develops into a blister. The blister then develops into a skin ulcer with a black area in the centre. The sore, blister and ulcer do not hurt.
  • Lungs: The first symptoms of inhalation anthrax are like cold or flu symptoms and can include a sore throat, mild fever and muscle aches. Later symptoms include cough, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, tiredness and muscle aches.
  • Gut: The first symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite, bloody diarrhoea, and fever, followed by bad stomach pain.

Symptoms can appear within 7 days of coming into contact with the bacterium for all three types of anthrax. For inhalation anthrax, symptoms can appear within a week or can take up to 42 days to appear.

If you are showing these symptoms, call your own Doctor right away, see them, tell them that you deal with cattle from the Shepparton region and get anthrax checked out. Anthrax can be treated with antibiotics. But, if it is not treated, it can kill people as well as animals.

If you were to get infected with anthrax, you would be entitled to WorkCover. In order to get it you would need a WorkCover Certificate from the Doctor and a Claim Form (that you can get from the Union or a Post Office). If the paperwork is not lodged, your long term interests are not protected.

There is a vaccine also. Remember, the troops who were sent to the Middle East were vaccinated. If any infected beasts have made it into your workplace, you should call your Organiser.. Make sure that WorkSafe know. They can be called on 1800 136 089. Collectively consider requesting that the vaccine be offered.

Don't panic -  but be aware.

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Last amended April 2020