The following questions and answers about anthrax are provided
courtesy of the federal Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
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.
Anthrax is most common
in agricultural regions where it occurs in animals. Humans
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 anthracis.
Anthrax infection can
occur in three forms: cutaneous (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
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 cutaneous anthrax.
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.
Anthrax is global.
It is more common in developing countries or countries without
veterinary public health programs.
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 elsewhere.
spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely. It is not contagious.
Doctors can prescribe
effective antibiotics. To be effective, treatment should
early. If left untreated, the
disease can be fatal.
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
It is manufactured
and distributed by BioPort Corp. of Lansing, Michigan. It
is a cell-free filtrate vaccine,
it contains no dead or live bacteria in the preparation.
Anthrax vaccines intended for animals should not be used
The CDCP's advisory
committee on immunization practices recommends vaccination
should be vaccinated only if absolutely necessary.
The anthrax Vaccine
Immunization Program in the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office
reached at 1-877-GETVACC (1-877-438-8222).
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