What is anthrax?


Know the basics

What is anthrax?

Anthrax is a serious bacterial infection caused by bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. Normally the bacteria produce spores that are inactive (dormant) and live in the soil. When the spores enter inside an animal or a person it becomes activated. These active spores will then start to multiply, produce poisonous toxins, spread throughout the body, and cause severe illness. It can affect the skin, lungs and, in rare cases, the digestive tract. Although anthrax can be life threatening, it can be easily treated with antibiotics when detected early. A vaccine is also available for people who are at high risk.

How common is anthrax?

Anthrax is rare. People can get anthrax from contact with infected animals, wool, meat, or hides. People at risk of anthrax include farmers, veterinary workers, and laboratory workers.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of anthrax?

The symptoms of anthrax depend on the type of infection and can take anywhere from 1 day to more than 2 months to appear. There are 3 types of the infection.

Skin anthrax

This type of anthrax affects the skin. The bacteria usually enter the body through an open cut or sore.

A painless, itchy, red-brown bump appears 1 to 12 days after exposure. Most often the bump will be on the face, neck, arms, or hands. The bump forms a blister, which eventually breaks open and forms a black scab (eschar), with swelling around it.

Nearby lymph nodes may swell, and people may feel ill, sometimes with muscle aches, headache, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

Inhalation anthrax

This type of anthrax affects the lungs. The bacteria can enter the lungs when you breathe in the spores.

The initial symptoms are similar to these of a cold but start to get worse quickly.

  • Fever and chills;
  • Sweats (often drenching);
  • Body aches;
  • Extreme tiredness;
  • Headache, confusion or dizziness;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Cough;
  • Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains.

If left untreated, this type of anthrax can be fatal. If you have any signs and symptoms above and suspect anthrax, contact your doctor immediately.

Gastrointestinal anthrax

Gastrointestinal anthrax is rare. It affects the digestive system. You can get this type of anthrax by eating contaminated meats.

Common symptoms include:

  • Swelling of neck or neck glands;
  • Sore throat;
  • Painful swallowing;
  • Hoarseness;
  • Nausea and vomiting, especially bloody vomiting;
  • Diarrhea or bloody diarrhea;
  • Stomach pain;
  • Swelling of abdomen (stomach).

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you live in or have recently visited an area where there is a high risk for anthrax, or have any signs or symptoms listed above, please consult with your doctor immediately. Anthrax can be fatal if untreated and need immediate medical attention.

Know the causes

What causes anthrax?

The main cause for anthrax is the active spores of bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. Spores can survive in the environment for years and then germinate and multiply. Only when they come into contact with animals and people, they become poisonous and spread throughout the body. Anthrax can enter the body three ways: skin contact, inhalation, and contaminated meats.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for anthrax?

There are many risk factors for anthrax, such as:

  • People Who Handle Animal Products;
  • Veterinarians working with infected animals;
  • Livestock producers who work with that animals;
  • Travelers going to high risk areas;
  • Laboratory Professionals who are working with anthrax;
  • Mail handlers, military personnel, and response workers;
  • Who may be exposed during a bioterror event involving anthrax spores;
  • Eating raw or undercooked meat from infected animals.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is anthrax diagnosed?

Anthrax may be suspected on the basis of symptoms, physical examination, a history of possible high-risk exposures, and by making sure that other diseases aren’t causing your symptoms. The best way to determine an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may test your skin, blood, or stool for the bacteria B. anthracis. Chest x-ray or computed tomography (CT), endoscopy, and spinal tap may be done. For endoscopy, a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera at the tip is used to examine the throat or intestine.

 How is anthrax treated?

All types of anthrax can be prevented and treated with antibiotics.  People who are exposed to anthrax may be given an oral antibiotic, usually amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin or doxycycline. The antibiotic is continued for 60 days to prevent the infection from returning.

The longer treatment is delayed, the greater the risk for irreversible harm. Thus, treatment is usually started as soon as anthrax is first suspected.

An anthrax vaccine is available, but it’s not 100% effective. The vaccine is used for military personnel, scientists working with anthrax, and other high-risk groups. It isn’t for children, pregnant women, or adults who are older than 65 years. If several doses of the anthrax vaccine are given, antibiotics may not be needed.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage anthrax?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with anthrax:

  • Get vaccinated if you work in high-risk industries. Veterinarians, laboratory workers, and emergency responders at risk should also get vaccinated.
  • See your health care provider immediately when you see detect first signs and symptoms of infection.
  • Finish all your prescribed antibiotics. Don’t stop taking them unless your doctor tells you to.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

msBahasa Malaysia

Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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