Images of Anthrax
Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that has the ability to form spores; spores are cells that are essentially dormant (asleep) but may become active under certain conditions. Anthrax disease can take 3 forms:
- Involving the skin (cutaneous) – 20% mortality
- Involving the lungs (inhalational) – 90% mortality
- Involving the digestive system (gastrointestinal) – 100% mortality
Who's at risk?
B. anthracis is a very rare bacterium, and it causes disease infrequently. It is present naturally in both wild and domestic animals and in soil, particularly where an infected animal has died or been killed. People in contact with infected animals are at higher risk of contracting anthrax; these people include:
- Meat processors
- Animal shearers
- Postal workers
- Lab workers in facilities with B. anthracis
- Scientists studying B. anthracis
Signs and Symptoms
- Characteristic rash*
- Cold or flu-like illness
- Sore throat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Decreased appetite
- Diarrhea, usually bloody
- Abdominal pain
As with any illness, take care to rest and stay well hydrated when infected with anthrax. If you have open wounds, keep them clean and covered. Caretakers and household members should note that anthrax is not known to be contagious person to person.
When to Seek Medical Care
Seek care early if you think you have been exposed to B. anthracis. Treatment is more effective the earlier it is begun.
Treatments Your Physician May Prescribe
Your doctor can diagnose anthrax by testing your blood, respiratory secretions, or wounds. The diagnosis may be difficult to make without history of exposure, so be sure to tell your doctor if you think you may have come into contact with B. anthracis or if you meet any of the above risk factors.
Anthrax is treated with common antibiotics. If you have been exposed but are not yet sick, you will get the anthrax vaccine. (This vaccine is available only to people in the military, people who work with B. anthracis, and people who have been exposed to B. anthracis.) If you are infected, you will take a long course of antibiotics.