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COWS FACE LOWER RISK OF ANTHRAX

Anthrax may have made humans in the Buffalo Niagara region skittish about opening their mail, but it looks like the cows have less to worry about this year.

The weather factors that could cause cases of anthrax in farm animals -- particularly cattle -- have been very good this year, making it a healthy one for cows on area farms, said experts at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Rochester.

"It's lower than normal," said agricultural specialist Bob King of the risk of anthrax in farm animals. "We had a really dry spring. That's what hurt us all year -- the dryness."

But the dry spring, combined with a dry summer, makes for the right conditions to keep anthrax from spreading to farm animals through dust and fecal matter while they are grazing, King said.

The best conditions for anthrax? A spring of floods followed by a drought-like summer, which promotes the collection of anthrax on dust spores, he said.

There has been one documented case of anthrax in a farm animal in New York State in the last 20 years, and it was not in Western New York, King said.

Still, the positive weather factors combined with increased awareness about anthrax among area farmers is having a positive effect, he said.

"There's more understanding of what anthrax is, because people are talking about it so much," said King. "Infectious diseases are now higher on the radar screen for farmers when it comes to their animals."

The good news for animals comes at the same time that people around the nation are worried about incidents of anthrax exposure and infection. There have now been several cases of anthrax -- a disease caused by the Bacillus anthracis germ, which multiplies in the bloodstream -- being sent to people in the mail in apparent acts of terrorism.

Anthrax can be fatal but is generally treatable with antibiotics if caught early.

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com

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