07/10/2012 08:12 EDT | Updated 09/09/2012 05:12 EDT

Suspected anthrax outbreak claims more bison in N.W.T.

Twenty-three bison carcasses have been found near Fort Providence, N.W.T., making a total of 151 bison that are suspected to have died from an anthrax outbreak.

Five of the 23 latest carcasses were found near the Deh Cho bridge construction site.

An incident command team from the territory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources is disposing of the carcasses by spraying them with formaldehyde and burning them.

The department sent samples from the carcasses to a Canadian Food Inspection Agency to determine the exact cause of death.

Judy McLinton, the department's spokeswoman, said the test results should be available next week.

During a routine anthrax surveillance last week, 128 carcasses of the large animals were found near Mills Lake, which is about 30 kilometres northeast of the community.

In response to the find, the department issued an anthrax emergency response plan to deal with the potential outbreak last week. It sent samples from the dead animals to a Canadian Food Inspection Agency lab in Lethbridge, Alta., to determine the exact cause of death.

The public is advised not to approach or touch the carcasses. Anyone who comes across dead bison is asked to notify the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Anthrax occurs naturally in the area. In certain conditions — in particular, high water levels followed by hot, dry conditions — the anthrax spores in the ground become concentrated in low-lying areas. Bison can inhale the spores and become infected.