1. What is anthrax?
Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused
by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus
anthracis. It most commonly occurs in mammals such as
cattle, sheep, goats, camels and antelopes, but can also occur
in humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue
from infected animals.
2. How common is anthrax
and who can get it?
Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions
where it occurs in animals. Humans infected with anthrax usually
have been exposed to infected animals or their products through
their occupations. Workers who are exposed to dead animals and
animal products from other countries where anthrax is more
common may become infected with Bacillus
3. How is anthrax
Anthrax infection can occur in three forms:
cetaceous (skin), inhalation, and
gastrointestinal. Spores can live in the soil for years, and
humans can become infected with anthrax by handling products
from infected animals or by inhaling anthrax spores from
contaminated animal products. Eating undercooked meat from
infected animals also can spread the disease. It is rare to find
infected animals in the United States.
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4. What are the symptoms
They vary depending on how the disease was
contracted, but symptoms usually occur within seven days.
- Cutaneous: About
95 percent of 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
of infected animals. It begins as a raised itchy bump that
resembles an insect bite, but soon turns into a painless ulcer,
usually one to three centimeters in diameter, usually with a
black center in the middle. Lymph glands in the adjacent area
may swell. About 20 percent of untreated cases result in death.
The employee at NBC who contracted anthrax has
- Inhalation: Initial symptoms may resemble a
common cold, but lead to severe breathing problems and shock
after several days. Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal. An
employee of a Florida tabloid publishing company contracted
inhalation anthrax and died.
- Intestinal: This form of anthrax may follow
the consumption of contaminated meat and is characterized by an
acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial signs
include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and fever, followed
by abdominal pain, vomiting blood and severe diarrhea. Between
25 percent and 60 percent of cases are fatal.
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Where is anthrax usually found?
Anthrax is global. 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
6. Can anthrax be spread
from person to person?
Direct, person-to-person spread of anthrax is
extremely unlikely. It is not contagious.
7. Is there a treatment
Doctors can prescribe effective antibiotics.
To be effective, treatment should be initiated early. If left
untreated, the disease can be fatal.
8. Is there a way to
In countries where anthrax is common and
vaccination levels of animal herds are low, humans should avoid
contact with livestock and animal products and not eat meat that
has not been properly prepared.
Also, an anthrax vaccine has been licensed for
use in humans. It is reported to be 93 percent effective.
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9. What is the anthrax
It is manufactured and distributed by
BioPort Corp. of Lansing, Michigan.
It is a cell-free filtrate vaccine, which means it contains no
dead or live bacteria in the preparation. Anthrax vaccines
intended for animals should not be used in humans.
10. Who should get
vaccinated against anthrax?
advisory committee on immunization practices recommends
vaccination for the following:
-- People who work directly with the organism
in the laboratory
-- People who work with imported animal hides
or furs in areas where standards are insufficient to prevent
exposure to anthrax spores.
-- People 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 getting
-- Military personnel deployed to areas with
high risk for exposure to the organism (as when it is used as a
biological warfare weapon).
Pregnant women should be
vaccinated only if absolutely necessary.
The anthrax Vaccine Immunization
Program in the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office can be reached
at 1-877-GETVACC (1-877-438-8222).
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