Anthrax is a disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium. Anthrax can be found naturally in soil and it most commonly occurs in hoofed animals, such as cows and horses. It also can infect humans.
Anthrax is not contagious, which means you can’t catch it like the cold or flu. The type of illness a person develops depends on how anthrax enters the body. Typically, anthrax gets into the body through the:
- Skin (cutaneous anthrax,
- Lungs (inhalation anthrax)
- Gastrointestinal system (gastrointestinal anthrax), or
- Injection anthrax.
Most people who get sick from anthrax are exposed while working with infected animals or animal products such as wool, hides, or hair.
Inhalation anthrax can occur when a person inhales spores that are in the air (aerosolized) during the industrial processing of contaminated materials, such as wool, hides, or hair.
Cutaneous anthrax can occur when workers who handle contaminated animal products get spores in a cut or scrape on their skin.
All types of anthrax can eventually spread throughout the body and cause death if they are not treated with antibiotics.
- Anthrax is treated with antibiotics such as: Penicillins, cipropfloxacin, doxycycline and tetracyclines. They are available only by prescription.
- Cutaneous anthrax is the most common form of anthrax infection, and is considered to be the least dangerous. Infection usually develops from 1 to 7 days after exposure.
- A group of small blisters or bumps that may itch
- Swelling can occur around the sore
- A painless skin sore (ulcer) with a black center that appears after the small blisters or bumps
- Most often the sore will be on the face, neck, arms, or hands
- Inhalation anthrax is considered to be the most deadly form of anthrax.
Infection usually develops within a week after exposure, but it can take up to 2 months
- Fever and chills
- Chest Discomfort
- Shortness of breath
- Confusion or dizziness
- Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pains
- Sweats (often drenching)
- Extreme tiredness
- Body aches
- Gastrointestinal anthrax has rarely been reported in the United States.
Infection usually develops from 1 to 7 days after exposure.
- Fever and chills
- Swelling of neck or neck glands
- Sore throat
- Painful swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting, especially bloody vomiting
- Diarrhea or bloody diarrhea
- Flushing (red face) and red eyes
- Stomach pain
- Swelling of abdomen (stomach)
- A different type of anthrax infection has been identified in heroin-injecting drug users in northern Europe. This type of infection has never been reported in the United States.
- Symptoms are the same as cutaneous anthrax
I have a suspicious letter — what should I do?
- Do not open, empty or shake the letter. Do not carry it, show it to others or allow others to examine it. Above all, do not sniff, touch, taste, or look closely at it or any contents that may have spilled.
- Put the package or envelope down on a stable surface, leave the room and close the door to prevent others from entering. If possible, shut off the ventilation.
- Wash your hands with soap and water. Call 911.
- You do not need to contact your doctor or go to the emergency room unless you feel sick, or if the police notify you that the letter contained anthrax.
Additional information may be obtained at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.