Anthrax is a potentially deadly infection caused by the Bacillus anthracis which can affect the lungs, skin or even the digestive tract in rare cases.
Anthrax can be present in both wild and domesticated animals that graze such as sheep, cattle and goats. The bacteria generate spores that are capable of surviving for years in the soil. These grazing animals become infected if they come in contact with or consume the spores.
In most cases, anthrax is spread to humans if they come in contact with infected animals or animal products. The spores might remain in animal products for many years and not readily eliminated by heat or cold. Even though infection typically occurs via the skin, it can also occur after inhalation of spores or eating contaminated or poorly cooked meat.
What are the symptoms of anthrax?
The symptoms of anthrax tend to vary depending on how the infection is acquired – via the skin, inhalation or via the digestive tract.
Most cases of anthrax involve the skin with the following symptoms:
- Painless, itchy, reddish-brown bumps that appear after 1-2 days of exposure
- The bumps form a blister that opens up and forms a black scab (eschar) with swelling
- Neighboring lymph nodes might swell
- Feeling sick with symptoms such as headache, muscle aches, nausea, fever and vomiting
It usually takes several weeks for the bump to heal and the swelling to subside.
This is considered as the most serious form that occurs after inhaling the spores when working with contaminated animal products.
The spores might linger in the lungs for weeks but eventually enter the white blood cells where they develop and the bacteria multiplies and spreads to the lymph nodes in the chest.
The bacteria generate toxins that causes the lymph nodes to swell, break down and bleed, thus spreading the infection to the adjacent structures. The infected fluid builds up in the area between the lungs and the chest wall.
This type is considered rare. When an individual consumes contaminated meat, the bacteria grows in the throat, mouth or intestine and releases toxins that causes significant bleeding and tissue death.
The individual might have a sore throat, fever, swollen neck, blood-streaked diarrhea and abdominal pain. In addition, the individual might vomit blood.
There is a vaccine given to individuals who are at high risk for the infection. Due to the potential of anthrax as a biological weapon, members of the armed forces have been vaccinated.
For the vaccine to be effective, it should be given in 5 doses. A booster shot is administered yearly.
Those who have been exposed to anthrax might be given an oral antibiotic usually levofloxacin, ciprofloxacin or doxycycline. If the individual could not use these antibiotics, amoxicillin is given. The antibiotic used should be taken for at least 60 days to prevent the infection from developing.