PIERRE, S.D. – Several cows have died of anthrax in western South Dakota, officials said Tuesday.

According to South Dakota Veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson, "several" cows from a herd of 160 unvaccinated cattle died in Meade County. She said it is the first confirmed anthrax death in cattle this year.

The Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory at South Dakota State confirmed the disease from samples submitted over the weekend. Anthrax is an economically devastating disease for the livestock industry because it can cause the rapid loss of many animals in a short time, Thompson's office said. Affected livestock are often found dead with no illness detected.

Anthrax spores survive indefinitely in contaminated soil, and much of South Dakota has the potential of experiencing an outbreak, Thompson said. Significant climate change, such as drought, floods, and winds, can expose anthrax spores to grazing livestock. Alkaline soils, high humidity and high temperatures present conditions for anthrax spores to vegetate and become infectious to grazing livestock.

Strict enforcement of quarantines and proper burning and burying of carcasses suspected to have died from anthrax is important to prevent further soil contamination with the bacterial spores, Thompson said Tuesday.

Producers are asked to contact state officials or a local veterinarian if anthrax is suspected. Animals that are suspected to have died due to anthrax are not to be moved or disturbed.

“Local veterinarians are excellent sources of information for cattle producers regarding anthrax,” Thompson said.