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Bioterrorism, Disasters, Emergency Awareness


What causes Anthrax?

Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis, a spore-forming bacterium. Spores allow anthrax to survive in the soil for years to decades. Anthrax has an almost worldwide distribution and is a zoonotic disease, meaning it may spread from animals to humans.

What species are typically at risk for developing anthrax?

Anthrax is primarily an animal disease, occurring most often in hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and antelopes, which can ingest anthrax while grazing. Horses can also acquire anthrax by grazing, but incidence is lower. Dogs, cats, lions, and pigs can contract anthrax by eating undercooked meat from infected animals. Birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish are not directly susceptible.

How common is anthrax in the United States?

Incidence of anthrax in the United States is low, primarily due to effective control of the disease in animals. Areas of higher risk include Central and South America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

What are the signs of anthrax infection?

Anthrax infection in animals can be respiratory or intestinal. Clinical signs may include fever, respiratory difficulty, excitement followed by depression, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody discharges, convulsions, and death.

How common is anthrax infection in people?

Anthrax in humans is rare. Most cases develop in people whose occupations place them in close contact with livestock or the contaminated products of livestock such as wool, goatskin, and pelts. Direct human-to-human transmission of anthrax is extremely unlikely, and most experts question whether it is possible.

How does anthrax infection occur in people?

Three types of anthrax are seen in people: cutaneous (skin), intestinal, and inhalation. The incubation period for the disease is approximately 2 to 7 days. Cutaneous anthrax accounts for about 95% of all the natural infections and develops when B. anthracis enters the skin through existing cuts or abrasions. Without antibiotic treatment the death rate is approximately 20%, if appropriately treated, death is rare. Intestinal anthrax results from consumption of contaminated and undercooked meat. Human intestinal anthrax has not been reported in the U. S. during the 20th or 21st centuries. Inhalational anthrax may initially appear as a flu-like illness. A short period of improvement may follow, after which the patient rapidly deteriorates with high fever, respiratory distress, and shock. Fatalities approach 95% if not treated within the first 48 hours.

What treatments are available for anthrax infection?

Infection can be prevented and treated with antibiotics. However, prompt administration is essential because the course of the disease is rapid.

Can anthrax infection be prevented?

Vaccination is effective at preventing infection in animals and people. Animal vaccines have not been approved and should not be administered to humans. A vaccine is available for humans, but population-wide vaccination in the U. S. has not been recommended because the risk factor is low.

Can anthrax easily be used as a biological weapon?

Use of B. anthracis as a biological weapon generally relies on aerosolization to cause inhalational anthrax. Aerosoilzation of infective doses of anthrax spores is not easily accomplished. More information regarding anthrax can be found on the American Veterinary Medical Association homepage.

Source: (Anthrax FAQ)

Sandra Harbison
Media Relations
UT College of Veterinary Medicine

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