The Colorado Department of Agriculture says it is investigating an anthrax case involving 50 dead cattle on a Logan County ranch.
At least one of the dead cattle is confirmed to have been infected with the disease in what the department is calling the state's first anthrax case in 31 years.
The ranch has been quarantined along with other people, cattle and equipment that may have come into contact with the anthrax and are being monitored. The department says no cattle have entered the food chain and that neighboring ranches have been notified.
"The risk is minimal outside the affected ranch. We believe, at this point, that anthrax is confined to that specific premises," said State Veterinarian, Dr. Keith Roehr.
Anthrax, a bacteria that can form harmful spores, can develop and live naturally in soil for many years. The spores protect vital parts of the bacteria allowing it to live until the right conditions allow it to grow. Spores can become active in periods of marked climatic or ecologic change such as heavy rainfall, flooding or drought which can then expose the anthrax spores to grazing livestock.
Often the animals are found dead before they were found to be infected.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention however says that it is rare to find an infected animal within the United States.
"Our focus is on the potential for human exposure," said Dr. Tony Cappello, district public health administrator for the Northeast Colorado Health Department. "We are currently conducting our own public health investigation and contacting individuals that have been involved with the livestock. Anthrax is not spread from person to person and exposure is limited only to those who had contact with the affected cattle or the immediate area."
The department says that it will be taking extra care to dispose of the animal carcasses in a way to prevent further soil contamination.
Though animals are the most susceptible to anthrax, humans can get it by handling products from infected animals, eating undercooked infected animals and inhaling anthrax spores.
The disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early.