What is anthrax?
Anthrax is a life-threatening infectious disease caused by the microbe Bacillus anthracis. The microbe resides in the soil and is a hardy, spore-forming bacterium that can survive in extreme conditions for a long time. B. anthracis bacteria produces spores that can cause a possibly deadly infection in people and animals. The disease normally affects animals, especially ruminants such as cows, goats, cattle, sheep, and horses.
Anthrax can be communicated or transferred to humans with exposure to the infected animals or their products. However, Anthrax does not spread from person to person and is not considered contagious.
In recent years, with the realisation of anthrax being spread by a bioterrorist attack or by biological warfare, the disease has received a great deal of attention.
Different types of anthrax would have different symptoms.
- Cutaneous anthrax: This is the most common and mildest form of anthrax. Cutaneous anthrax symptoms are
- Small itchy blisters or bumps
- A painless swollen sore with a black center
- Swelling in nearby lymph glands and tissues
- Gastrointestinal anthrax: This can arise from eating raw or uncooked meat from an infected animal. Symptoms generally develop within a week and include:
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
- Sore throat with painful swallowing
- Swelling of neck and neck glands
- Flushing face and red eyes
- Inhalation anthrax: It is the deadliest kind of anthrax with initial symptoms like
- Chest discomfort
- Coughing up blood
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain when swallowing
- Flu-like symptoms
As the disease progresses, the person may experience breathing difficulties, low oxygen inblood, meningitis, and shock.
- Injection anthrax: This type of anthrax has affected and impacted people who inject heroin in Europe. Initial symptoms include,
- Abscesses in and around the injection site
- Blisters and bumps around the injection site
- A swollen sore near the injection site
As the disease progresses, other symptoms like meningitis, organ failure, and shock might develop.
Who is at risk?
Anthrax risk factors depend upon the possibility of exposure to the bacteria. People who are at a higher risk to get infected include:
- Livestock producers and farmers
- Travelers to areas where anthrax is an epidemic
- Handlers of animal products
- Laboratory personnel that study anthrax
- Mail handlers and military individuals trained to respond to biological warfare
Anthrax causes include both direct and indirect contact by touching, inhaling, or ingesting anthrax spores. Once the spores get inside your body and activate, the bacteria multiplies, spreads, and produces toxins.
One can come in contact with anthrax through,
- Animals: Humans can get anthrax through,
- exposure to infected grazing animals
- exposure to infected animal products
- inhalation of spores, usually during the processing of infected animal products
- consumption of undercooked meat from infected animals
- Biological weapons: Anthrax can rarely be used as a biological weapon, like the attack in the United States in 2001.
How is Anthrax diagnosed?
Anthrax has common symptoms with more common conditions such as flu and pneumonia. A general physician will first rule out the possibility of these conditions before considering anthrax unless there is a specific case of exposure to anthrax.
Tests for anthrax diagnosis include:
- Blood tests
- Skin biopsy
- Stool samples
- Spinal tap
- Chest X-rays
- CT Scan
- Lumber punctures
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How is Anthrax treated?
Anthrax treatment depends on whether you’ve developed symptoms or not.
If you’re exposed to anthrax and have no symptoms, an anthrax doctor will start preventive treatment consisting of antibiotics and the anthrax vaccine.
If you have symptoms, the doctor will do anthrax cure with antibiotics like ciprofloxacin or doxycycline. The type of antibiotics depends on factors like how the infection occurred, the individual’s age and medical history.
In recent times, for successful treatment of anthrax, surgical removal of infected tissue has been done. In order for the treatment of anthrax to be effective, it must begin as soon as possible.
How can Anthrax be prevented?
Prevention of anthrax can be done by
- Only eating meat that has been suitably slaughtered and cooked
- Avoiding exposure to raw animal hides, especially those of cows, sheep, and goats
- Taking extra care if you work with imported fur, hides, and wool
- Taking an anthrax vaccine