Anthrax

Anthrax is an infection, which can be life threatening. There are three forms of human anthrax, depending on where anthrax enters the body: Once anthrax is in the body, it multiplies and releases toxins. The toxins cause swelling, bleeding, and tissue death. All forms of anthrax can cause death but inhaled anthrax has a much higher mortality rate once symptoms develop.

  • Causes

    Anthrax is caused by exposure to a specific bacteria or its spores. These spores are created by the bacteria and can survive in the environment for decades. The bacteria and spores can be found in the soil and livestock like cattle and goats. It is rare, but people can contract anthrax from:

    • Infected animals
    • Infected animal products
    • Spores in environment

  • Definition

    Anthrax is an infection, which can be life threatening.

    There are three forms of human anthrax, depending on where anthrax enters the body:

    • Inhaled—from breathing airborne spores into the lungs
    • Cutaneous (or skin)—due to spores entering a cut or break in the skin (most common)
    • Gastrointestinal—from ingesting spores in raw or undercooked food

    Once anthrax is in the body, it multiplies and releases toxins. The toxins cause swelling, bleeding, and tissue death. All forms of anthrax can cause death but inhaled anthrax has a much higher mortality rate once symptoms develop.

    Anthrax Can Enter the Body Through the Lungs
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  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will be asked about potential sources of exposure. A physical exam will be done.

    Fluid from wounds, mucosal membranes, and body fluids may be tested for bacteria. A blood test may be done to look for the presence of antibodies to anthrax.

    If inhalation anthrax is suspected, your doctor may order a chest x-ray to examine your lungs.

  • Prevention


    It is difficult to tell if you have been exposed. Anthrax is colorless, and has no smell or taste. Seek medical care if you suspect that you have had contact with anthrax. Antibiotics may be able to prevent infection following exposure. There is a
    vaccine
    to prevent anthrax. It requires multiple shots and is only partially effective. The vaccine is not recommended for the general population. It is routinely given to military personnel.

    Strategies to prevent exposure to anthrax include:

    • Avoid contact with infected animals or animal products.
    • Do not touch fluid draining from an anthrax wound.

    • Handle suspicious mail properly:

      • Do not open mail from an unknown source.
      • Do not shake packages.
      • Do not smell or taste contents.
      • Put the parcel down and immediately wash your hands with soap and warm water.
      • Call local law enforcement.

  • Risk Factors

    Risk factors for anthrax include the following:

    • Working in a laboratory with
      anthrax bacteria
    • Working with anthrax-infected animals or their products (such as at a farm, leather tannery, woolery, veterinary clinic)
    • Exposure to criminal acts or biologic terrorism

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms usually start within a few days of exposure. They vary depending on the type of disease.

    These symptoms will depend on the location of the lesions.
    Mouth and throat lesions can cause:

    • Swelling in throat
    • Swollen lymph nodes
    • Sore throat

    Lesions in the intestines can cause:

    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Fever
    • Abdominal pain

    • Bloody
      diarrhea

  • Treatment

    It is important to start antibiotics early. Any delay greatly increases the risk of death, especially with inhalation anthrax. Treatment may be started with IV medications followed by oral antibiotics. You may need to take antibiotics for many weeks.

    Inhalation anthrax may also be treated with a monoclonal antibody that specifically targets and neutralizes anthrax bacteria.

    If you have skin lesion, they will be carefully cleaned and dressed with bandages.