Information From The Center For Disease Control
What is anthrax?
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease
caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax most
commonly occurs in wild and domestic lower vertebrates (cattle, sheep,
goats, camels, antelopes, and other herbivores), but it can also occur
in humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected
Why has anthrax become a current
Because anthrax is considered to
be a potential agent for use in biological warfare, the Department of Defense
has begun mandatory vaccination of all active duty military personnel who
might be involved in conflict.
How common is anthrax and who
can get it?
Anthrax is most common in agricultural
regions where it occurs in animals. These include South and Central America,
Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle
East. When anthrax affects humans, it is usually due to an occupational
exposure to infected animals or their products. Workers who are exposed
to dead animals and animal products from other countries where anthrax
is more common may become infected with B. anthracis (industrial anthrax).
Anthrax in wild livestock has occurred in the United States.
How is anthrax transmitted?
Anthrax infection can occur in three
forms: cutaneous (skin), inhalation, and gastrointestinal. B. anthracis
spores can live in the soil for many years, and humans can become infected
with anthrax by handling products from infected animals or by inhaling
anthrax spores from contaminated animal products. Anthrax can also be spread
by eating undercooked meat from infected animals. It is rare to find infected
animals in the United States.
What are the symptoms of anthrax?
Symptoms of disease vary depending
on how the disease was contracted, but symptoms usually occur within seven
Cutaneous: Most (about 95
percent) anthrax infections occur when the bacterium enters a cut or abrasion
on the skin, such as when handling contaminated wool, hides, leather or
hair products (especially goat hair) of infected animals. Skin infection
begins as a raised itchy bump that resembles an insect bite but within
1-2 days develops into a vesicle and then a painless ulcer, usually 1-3
centimeters in diameter, with a characteristic black necrotic (dying) area
in the center. Lymph glands in the adjacent area may swell. About 20 percent
of untreated cases of cutaneous anthrax will result in death. Deaths are
rare with appropriate antimicrobial therapy.
Inhalation: Initial symptoms
may resemble a common cold. After several days, the symptoms may progress
to severe breathing problems and shock. Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal.
Intestinal: The intestinal disease
form of anthrax may follow the consumption of contaminated meat and is
characterized by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial
signs of nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever are followed by abdominal
pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea. Intestinal anthrax results
in death in 25 to 60 percent of cases.
Where is anthrax usually found?
Anthrax can be found globally. It
is more common in developing countries or countries without veterinary
public health programs. Certain regions of the world (South and Central
America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and
the Middle East) report more anthrax in animals than others.
Can anthrax be spread from person
Direct person-to-person spread of
anthrax is extremely unlikely to occur. Communicability is not a concern
in managing or visiting with patients with inhalational anthrax.
Is there a way to prevent infection?
In countries where anthrax is common
and vaccination levels of animal herds are low, humans should avoid contact
with livestock and animal products and avoid eating meat that has not been
properly slaughtered and cooked. Also, an anthrax vaccine has been licensed
for use in humans. The vaccine is reported to be 93 percent effective in
protecting against anthrax.
What is the anthrax vaccine?
The anthrax vaccine is manufactured
and distributed by BioPort, Corporation, Lansing, Mich. The vaccine is
a cell-free filtrate vaccine, which means it contains no dead or live bacteria
in the preparation. The final product contains no more than 2.4 milligrams
of aluminum hydroxide as adjuvant. Anthrax vaccines intended for animals
should not be used in humans.
Who should get vaccinated against
The Advisory Committee on Immunization
Practices has recommend anthrax vaccination for the following groups:
What is the protocol for anthrax
Persons who work directly with the organism
in the laboratory
Persons who work with imported animal
hides or furs in areas where standards are insufficient to prevent exposure
to anthrax spores.
Persons who handle potentially infected
animal products in high-incidence areas. (Incidence is low in the United
States, but veterinarians who travel to work in other countries where incidence
is higher should consider being vaccinated.)
Military personnel deployed to areas
with high risk for exposure to the organism (as when it is used as a biological
Pregnant women should be vaccinated
only if absolutely necessary.
The immunization consists of three
subcutaneous injections given two weeks apart followed by three additional
subcutaneous injections given at 6, 12, and 18 months. Annual booster injections
of the vaccine are recommended thereafter.
Are there adverse reactions to
the anthrax vaccine?
Mild local reactions occur in 30
percent of recipients and consist of slight tenderness and redness at the
injection site. Severe local reactions are infrequent and consist of extensive
swelling of the forearm in addition to the local reaction. Systemic reactions
occur in fewer than 0.2 percent of recipients.
How is anthrax diagnosed?
Anthrax is diagnosed by isolating
B. anthracis from the blood, skin lesions, or respiratory secretions or
by measuring specific antibodies in the blood of persons with suspected
Is there a treatment for anthrax?
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Doctors can prescribe effective
antibiotics. To be effective, treatment should be initiated early. If left
untreated, the disease can be fatal.