Anthrax is caused by a bacteria called baccilus anthracis. Anthrax is a rod shaped gram positive bacteria which is found naturally in the soil and routinely attacks grazing animals such as cattle, sheep and goats who are then infected through ingestions of contaminated soil. It also infects wild animals worldwide.
Anthrax is spread when its spores are inhaled, ingested, or come into contact with skin lesions. They are found on infected animal carcasses, wool, hair and hides. Spores can remain dormant for many years.
Louis Pasteur one of the most important founders of medical micro- biology link claimed he had made the anthrax vaccine by exposing the bacilli to oxygen. His laboratory notebooks, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, show that he used the methodology of rival Jean-Joseph-Henri Toussaint (1847–1890) to create the anthrax vaccine. link
The disease is generally regarded as being non-contagious. Records of person-to-person spread exist, but are rare. link Anthrax responds quickly to oral antibiotics. link. Risk of infection is very low.
- Commonly seen on hands, forearms, head and neck
- 1-7 days after exposure a raised, itchy, inflamed pimple appears followed by a papule that turns vesicular. Extensive oedema or swelling accompanies the lesion. The swelling tends to be much greater than would normally be expected for the size of the lesion and this is usually painless
- The blister then ulcerates and the classical black eschar develops two to six days later
- If left untreated the infection can spread to cause blood poisoning
- fever, headache, muscle aches and non-productive cough
- respiratory failure
- It is treatable in the early flu-like phase.
- A relatively large number of spores need to be inhaled, and this is unlikely under most circumstances
- Skin testing – a sample of fluid from a suspicious lesion on the skin or a biopsy may be tested in a lab for signs of cutaneous anthrax
- Blood tests – a small amount of blood drawn which will be analysed in a laboratory for the bacteria
- Chest X-ray or CT scan – these may be conducted to help diagnose inhalation anthrax.
- Stool testing – in order to diagnose gastrointestinal anthrax
- Lumbar puncture – In order to confirm a suspected diagnosis of anthrax meningitis
The standard treatment for anthrax is a 60-day course of an antibiotic, such as ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or doxycycline (Monodox, Vibramycin, others). Your doctor will decide which single antibiotic or combination of antibiotics will be most effective depending on how you were infected with anthrax, your age, your overall health and other factors.
Treatment is most effective when started as soon as possible.
There is a vaccine against anthrax, but it is not approved for widespread use because it has never been comprehensively tested in human trials. It is not normally recommended for those at slight or occasional risk and isn’t of value in the short term. link
According to the CDC there is only one anthrax vaccine licensed for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration: BioThrax® : It is given to people 18 through 65 years old at increased risk of exposure in five doses, with a booster dose each year thereafter for those that continue to be at increased risk of exposure. link
Vaccine should not be given to;
The anthrax vaccine is not generally available to the general public and the following categories of people should not take the vaccine. link
- people who have had a past serious or life-threatening reaction to the anthrax vaccine or any of its components
- people with a weakened immune system due to autoimmune conditions, HIV, or medications such as cancer treatments
- women who are pregnant or believe they may be pregnant
- people who have previously had anthrax disease
- people who are moderately to severely ill (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated)