Anthrax is a life-threatening infectious disease that normally affects animals, especially ruminants such as goats, cattle, sheep, and horses. Anthrax can be transmitted to humans by contact with infected animals or their products. In recent years, anthrax has received a great deal of attention as it has become clear that the infection can also be spread by a bioterrorist attack or by biological warfare. Anthrax does not spread from person to person. The agent of anthrax is a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. Under the microscope, the bacteria look like large rods. However, in the soil, where they live, anthrax organisms exist in a dormant form called spores. These spores are very hardy and difficult to destroy. The spores have been known to survive in the soil for as long as 48 years.


Anthrax can infect humans in three ways. The most common is infection through the skin, which causes an ugly sore that usually goes away without treatment. Humans and animals can ingest anthrax from carcasses of dead animals that have been contaminated with anthrax. Ingestion of anthrax can cause serious, sometimes fatal disease. The most deadly form is inhalation anthrax. If the spores of anthrax are inhaled, they migrate to lymph glands in the chest where they proliferate, spread, and produce toxins that often cause death.

How is Anthrax treated?

In most cases, early treatment can cure anthrax. The cutaneous form of anthrax can be treated with common antibiotics such as penicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin, and ciprofloxacin. The pulmonary form of anthrax is a medical emergency. Early and continuous intravenous therapy with antibiotics may be lifesaving. In a bioterrorism attack, individuals exposed to anthrax will be given antibiotics before they become sick. A vaccine exists but is not yet available to the general public. Most experts think that the vaccine will also be given to exposed individuals who are victims of a bioterrorist attack. Of note, anthrax is a reportable disease. That means that local or state health agencies must be notified if a case of anthrax is diagnosed. These agencies can better characterize the anthrax so that the affected individual can receive the most effective treatment for that particular organism.


Public-health measures to prevent contact with infected animals are invaluable. There is a vaccine available for people at high risks. For anthrax and other infectious diseases, vaccines with greater efficacy and fewer side effects are under development. Currently, most vaccines are given by injection into fat or muscle below the skin. Early studies in experimental animals are showing promise for an oral vaccine for anthrax. Obviously, a pill is easier to take than a shot, and the pill may even be a safer and more effective route of administration.

Read out and get to know about this dangerous infection in detail for your knowledge.


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