Marked Over 160 “Anthrax Graves” Around Iceland

An icelandic horse at sunset

Veterinarian Sigurður Sigurðarson and his wife Ólöf Erla Halldórsdóttir have been travelling around Iceland since 2004 on a mission to mark the graves of animals who died of anthrax, Bændablaðið reports. The bacteria that causes anthrax, which can be fatal to both animals and humans, can survive for hundreds of years underground. The couple wants to ensure locals and passers-by are aware of the risks of tampering with the soil covering these graves, which can bring the dangerous bacteria back to the surface.

“A few times I thought I had finished the project, but then I got information about farms and places that had been forgotten,” Sigurður stated. He has marked over 160 graves in 130 locations. The markings are white, cylindrical posts marked with the letter “A,” for anthrax. “A marking at these locations is a reminder to show caution and be alert if it’s necessary to disturb the soil at that location.”

Anthrax Bacterium Can Survive Dormant Indefinitely

Though the bacterium that causes anthrax poses little threat to animals and humans while underground, it can remain active for hundreds of years. “The bacterium that causes anthrax can live dormant in the soil almost indefinitely, but seems to pose little risk on the surface near graves after a few weeks, likely due to the effects of sunlight and erosion,” Sigurður explains. “That is why it’s important to know where danger lies and mark it, to caution against digging, which could bring the infectious agent up to the surface.”

The most recent case of anthrax in Iceland was in 2004, when sea erosion exposed a ridge where a large farm animal had been buried in 1874, 130 years earlier. Soil from the ridge was carried onto the pastureland of four horses, and three died suddenly. The fourth became ill and had to be put down.

Sigurður and Ólöf are now travelling around the country to check on the markings they have placed in previous years, and hopefully complete the project for good. They encourage locals with any information about past anthrax cases and associated graves to get in touch. They also hope landowners will lend a helping hand when it comes to any maintenance that may be necessary to keep the markings in good shape. Sigurður is compiling a full report on the project that will be submitted to the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

Sigurður and Ólöf have carried out the project on a volunteer basis, though they have had help from sponsors around the country. Sigurður expressed his thanks to all of the project’s supporters, including former Minister of Agriculture Guðni Ágústsson.

Iceland and U.S. Discussed the Covid-19 Travel Ban

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

Icelandic and U.S. authorities have agreed to prepare co-operation regarding the effects of the travel restrictions placed by American authorities on European countries due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and State Secretary Mike Pompeo discussed the economic effects the ban will have and agreed in principle to co-operate once the pandemic has subsided. This discussion took place in a phone meeting yesterday. A face to face meeting had been planned in Washington DC last Thursday but had to be cancelled due to the travel ban.

The temporary travel ban affects all foreign nationals from China, Iran as well as European countries that are part of the Schengen agreement. People both from these countries, as well as those who have visited any of the countries in the last 14 days, are banned from entering the United States of America due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had a good conversation and I expressed my disappointment at the measures taken by the US government, and now by the European Union. We have to explore all avenues to minimize the damage that these measures will cause. We will also have to come to terms with the position which we’re in right now, which is of course without precedent, and it is urgent that we stop the spread of the virus with significant scientific actions. All the while, it was important to emphasise the continuing good relations between the two countries, and we agreed on that,” said Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór.

Passenger service to continue

Guðlaugur Þór placed emphasis on the effects on passenger-carrying operations between the two countries, especially due to Iceland’s position in between North-America and Europe. The pair also spoke of the importance of taking on the economic effects of the pandemic, not least for international air travel.

“The Minister for Foreign Affairs placed emphasis on the effects on Icelandair flights towards and from North America, and the need to review the state of matters once the pandemic has subsided. He and the State Secretary agreed to prepare co-operation between experts from the two countries regarding these matters, as well preparing further economic co-operation between the countries in a larger context,” a release from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs stated.

Horse Illness Linked to Feed

Forty-four horses in Iceland have been diagnosed with symptoms of acquired equine polyneuropathy (AEP), RÚV reports. Although the disease, also known as Scandinavian knuckling syndrome, is common in other Nordic countries, this is the first time it has been diagnosed in Iceland. Veterinarians with the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) have determined that horses have contracted the disease from their feed.

AEP is a “…neurological disease characterised by pelvic limb knuckling.” Such muscle deterioration in horses’ hind quarters gives them an abnormal “sidewinder” gait. According to Sigríður Björnsdóttir, a veterinarian who specialises in equine diseases at MAST, the disease mostly effects younger horses, and, although it can be fatal, she says the survival rate for diagnosed animals is good: about 70% make a full recovery.

Of the 44 horses that have been diagnosed with AEP in Iceland, 12 have had to be euthanised and one was found dead. Sigríður says that the disease has been linked to hay and feed that the diagnosed horses consumed. What precisely in the hay is causing the disease is unknown, but researchers have identified a specific kind of hay that is the problem and have ensured that it will not be fed to any more horses.

Other than immediately changing horses’ feed, there is little that can be done to hasten the diagnosed animals’ recovery except to ensure that they don’t suffer any extra stresses, as this can make the symptoms worse.