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Disease: Anthrax Anthrax
Category: Infectious diseases
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Disease Definition:

Caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis, anthrax mainly affects livestock and wild game, but humans could also become affected through direct or indirect contact with sick animals. Although in some rare cases anthrax skin lesions may be contagious, usually it isn’t transmitted from one person to another.

A person can become infected through a wound in their skin, eating contaminated meat or inhaling the spores. Some of the symptoms include skin sores, shock or nausea and vomiting and they depend on the way the person is infected.

Although inhaled anthrax is difficult to treat and can be fatal, most anthrax infections contracted through the skin or contaminated meat can be cured if promptly treated with antibiotics.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Usually, symptoms develop within seven days of exposure to bacteria. There are three types of anthrax, each with different signs and symptoms.

Gastrointestinal anthrax:
When someone eats undercooked meat from an infected animal, they become infected with this type of anthrax. Its signs and symptoms are:


  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Sore throat and difficulty swallowing
  • Swollen neck
  • Severe diarrhea, which becomes bloody in the later stages of the disease
  • Vomiting, which is usually bloody in the later stages of the disease

Cutaneous anthrax:
This is the most common and mild form of the disease. It enters the body through a cut or other sore on the skin. Cutaneous anthrax is rarely fatal if appropriately treated, and its symptoms include:


  • A raised bump that’s itchy and resembles an insect bite that quickly develops into a black centered painless sore
  • Swelling in the sore and the nearby lymph glands

Inhalation anthrax:
Also called pulmonary anthrax, it develops when you breathe in anthrax spores. This type is the most deadly form of the disease and even with treatment is often fatal. Its initial signs and symptoms include:


  • Mild chest discomfort
  • Symptoms that are similar to the flu, such as mild fever, sore throat, fatigue and muscle aches, which may last a few hours or days

As the disease progresses, the patient may experiences:


  • Shock
  • High fever
  • Trouble breathing
  • Meningitis, which is a life-threatening inflammation of the brain and spinal cord

Anthrax is rare in the developed world, and the chances that a person's sore throat and aching muscles are due to anthrax are extremely small because many common illnesses start with symptoms that resemble the flu.

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial, so if someone works in an environment where anthrax is likely to occur, or if they develop signs and symptoms of the disorder after exposure to animals or animal products in parts of the world where anthrax is common, they should seek immediate medical evaluation and care.


Anthrax spores are formed by bacteria that occur naturally in soil in most parts of the world. The spores can remain latent for years until they find their way into a host, which is usually wild or domestic livestock, such as cattle, horse, sheep, goats and camels.

Generally, the human cases of anthrax occur as a result of exposure to infected animals or their meat or hides. However, a few people have developed anthrax while making traditional African drums from the skins of infected animals.

One of the few known instances of non-animal transmission occurred in the United States in 2001 when 22 people developed anthrax after being exposed to spores sent through the mail. Five of those who were infected died.



A fatal inflammation of the membranes and fluid covering the brain and spinal cord is the most serious complication of anthrax, which leads to massive bleeding, known as hemorrhagic meningitis.


Treatment for anthrax is most effective when started as soon as possible. The standard treatment for anthrax is a 60-day course of antibiotics, such as doxycycline or ciprofloxacin. The advanced cases of inhalation anthrax don’t respond to antibiotics because in the later stages of the disease the bacteria produce more toxins than drugs can eliminate.

The type or combination of antibiotics most effective for a person will depend on the type of anthrax they have, their age, overall health and other factors.


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