Worst anthrax outbreak in 20 years sweeps French farms

More than 50 cows, sheep and horses have died in France's most serious outbreak of anthrax in two decades, according to officials who have warned of a vaccine shortage.

Worst anthrax outbreak in 20 years sweeps French farms
Illustration photo: AFP
Authorities in the mountainous Hautes-Alpes region of southeastern France said the infection, which can spread to humans and is deadly in its rarest forms, had spread to 28 farms since June.
Anthrax is transmitted by spores that can stay inactive in the ground for decades, including in the bodies of dead animals. 
French vets have been battling to contain the outbreak because the Spanish laboratory which produces the vaccines has been closed throughout August for the summer vacation.
“The state is in talks with its European partners to discuss the availability and purchase of vaccines” which other countries may have stockpiled, said senior regional official Agnes Chavanon Sunday.
Photo: AFP
Cases of anthrax being passed on to humans are “extremely rare”, said Christine Ortmans, a doctor with regional health agency ARS.
No one has been reported ill during the current outbreak, she stressed.
Cutaneous anthrax — which appears on the skin and is by far the most common form of the infection — is rarely deadly when treated with antibiotics.
But the bacteria which causes it, bacillus anthracis, produces a powerful toxin and has been used as a biological weapon.
Most notoriously a series of attacks using anthrax, delivered through the mail, terrorised the United States in 2001 a week after the carnage of September 11.
A bioweapons expert killed himself after being charged over the attacks, in which five people were killed and 17 others made ill.
Photo: AFP
Senior Hautes-Alpes official Serge Cavalli said animals were being vaccinated at affected farms in the region.
Those hit have been banned from production for at least 21 days while the farms are disinfected and to provide time for the vaccinated animals to become immune.
Any milk on site is pasteurised and then destroyed.
The last serious French outbreak was in 2008 when anthrax spread to 23 farms, most of them in the eastern Doubs area.
The first case in the current outbreak was detected in the village of Montgardin on June 28, killing six cows, and has since spread to 12 others.
Cows struck by anthrax swell in the abdomen and bleed from their orifices, and often die in less than 24 hours.
The disease is fairly rare, although more than 100 cases have been registered at French farms since 1999 — often during hot summers after periods of heavy rain. 
The ARS said 103 people in the Hautes-Alpes region had been flagged as having potentially come into contact with infected animals, most of them farmers, vets or slaughterhouse workers.
Half have been given preventative antibiotics, according to officials.

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French hunter kills bear that bit him

A 70-year-old hunter killed a bear in southwest France Saturday after it attacked and seriously wounded him, local officials said.

A brown bear is pictured in the semi-wildlife animal park of Les Angles, southwestern France.
Brown bears had nearly disappeared in France until the country began a reintroduction programme, importing them from Slovenia. AFP PHOTO / RAYMOND ROIG

The female bear, who was travelling with her cubs, bit him as he was hunting in the Seix region of Ariege, a source close to the case said.

Rescued by the local gendarmerie, he was transported to the intensive care unit of a hospital in Toulouse with a wound to his leg at the level of his femoral artery, officials at the prefecture in Ariege said.

One source close to the case said he was in a serious condition.

The hunter told local officials he had been out with a group of other hunters on the trail of a boar, when the female bear, who was travelling with her cubs, attacked him.

After being wounded, the hunter shot the bear twice, killing it.

The local gendarme unit was called out to rescue him at around 3:30 pm (1430 GMT). They discovered the body of the bear a few metres from where they had found the hunter.

An investigation has been opened into the incident, the prefecture in Ariege said.

One local official told AFP on Saturday: “This is really what we feared.”

“Today, you can really see that cohabitation is complicated,” said Christine Tequi, president of the Ariege department council.

The brown bear had nearly disappeared in this part of the world when France began a programme of reintroducing them, importing them from Slovenia.

Today, there are around sixty of them in the Pyrenees range, leading to increasing tensions with local farmers, because of the threat they pose to their livestock.

In 2020, three bears were illegally killed in the Pyrenees: two of them in Spain and one in France. The French government has committed to replacing any bear killed by a man.

READ ALSO: The decades-old battle between French farmers and conservationists over bears
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