SAN JOSE — Nearly two dozen cattle killed by anthrax in a remote area of Santa Clara County do not pose a threat to the general public, and the deaths were not related to terrorism, authorities said.
The 21 cows and bulls died Oct. 20-28, and about 120 cattle have since been vaccinated. State officials called it California’s worst outbreak in 17 years.
Anthrax spores occur naturally in soil around the world, and animals contract the disease by ingesting the spores. The disease is not uncommon in animals, State Veterinarian Richard Breitmeyer said Monday in a written release.
The Santa Clara cattle were exposed “by eating dirt, primarily,” said Greg Van Wassenhove, Santa Clara County’s agricultural commissioner.
With pastures brown and parched, “The stubble is so short out there that cattle are ingesting soil,” he said.
The state has regular procedures to handle cases of anthrax in livestock, but because of the incidents on the East Coast, the FBI has been notified.
Four people at the ranch came into contact with the blood of the infected animals while assisting in a necropsy, and they have been given antibiotics as a precaution. Also, 10 employees of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at the University of California, Davis, where the anthrax diagnosis was confirmed, also have been placed on antibiotics as a precaution.
There have been 10 known cases of anthrax in the past 10 years in the state. In 1991, an anthrax incident killed 28 cattle in Contra Costa County, and in 1984, an anthrax incident killed 43 cattle and 135 sheep in San Luis Obispo County.