Anthrax: Risk, Diagnosis, Symptoms, Treatment

By December 17, 2016 No Comments

The word Anthrax is not as amusing as it sounds. It is a life-threatening infectious disease caused by bacteria named Bacillus anthracis. These bacteria normally affect animals. These bacteria usually target Ruminants (such as cattle and horses), among different animals. Under certain conditions, this bacterium forms highly resistant spores; these spores have high resistance capability, thus helping Bacillus anthracis to retain their virulence for many years. Anthrax is transmitted from animals to humans as well. Transmission occurs when humans come in contact with the infected animals or their products. Humans can develop the disease by eating the meat or handling the wool, hair, hides, bones, or carcasses of affected animals.

It might sound somehow assuring that the transmission takes place by animals only, but it is not the complete truth. In recent years it has been confirmed that Anthrax is transmitted by different bioterrorist attacks and biochemical warfare as well. It causes different skin and lungs diseases and can be very deadly.

Anthrax in humans occurs as a cutaneous, pulmonary, or intestinal infection. The most common type is cutaneous anthrax, which occurs as a primary localized infection of the skin. It usually results from handling infected material. Only seldom do the bacilli invade the bloodstream, causing blood poisoning, internal bleeding, and, sometimes, meningitis. The pulmonary form, also called inhalation anthrax, affects principally the lungs, results from inhaling anthrax spores. The intestinal form of the disease, which sometimes follows consumption of contaminated meat, is characterized by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract, vomiting, and severe diarrhoea.

It does not spread from one person to another, it is not considered as contagious.

Who is at risk for Anthrax?

It is uncommon in the many developed countries. It’s most often found in some farming areas in Central and South America, the Caribbean, southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Saharan Africa, and central and southwestern Asia.

One has a high risk for Anthrax if involved in the following areas or actions:

  1. Works with Anthrax in a laboratory.
  2. Works on a farm or resides near a huge farming area.
  3. Works as a veterinarian.
  4. Works or is on duty in the area with the possibility of Anthrax infection.
  5. Military person.


One can never characterize the symptoms up to the point because the symptoms depend on the mode of contact.

If your skin comes into contact with anthrax, you may get a small, raised sore that’s itchy. It usually looks like an insect bite. Blisters can be seen in the skin. It then becomes a skin ulcer with a black centre. This doesn’t usually cause pain. The symptoms typically develop within one to five days after exposure.

The symptoms of gastrointestinal anthrax usually develop within a week of exposure. Symptoms of anthrax ingestion include:

  1. Nausea
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Fever
  4. Swelling in the neck
  5. Bloody diarrhoea
  6. Severe abdominal pain

The symptoms of inhaling anthrax include:

  • Cold symptoms
  • A sore throat
  • A fever and cough
  • Achy muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Shaking and chills


Since Anthrax is considered as a deadly infection, it’s diagnosis and treatment is very important. If the symptoms and signs are seen, one can say for sure or guess that he/she has been affected by Anthrax. Of course, diagnosis is necessary and there are numerous tests those have to be performed. These tests include:

  1. Blood tests
  2. Stool sample
  3. Skin tests

All these tests are recommended by your doctor and must be performed. There’s another important, spinal tap, a procedure that tests a small amount of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. You are recommended for chest X-rays, a CT scan and an endoscopy as well.

After all these diagnoses if your doctor detects it in your body, the confirmation process is done. After the confirmation of Anthrax in your body, you must undergo all the treatments required further.


One might raise a question about whom to consult for the treatment. Yes, a primary doctor can treat Anthrax infection, but a good action would be to consult an infectious-disease specialist. Why take chances when it comes to your health, isn’t it?

To start with a simple statement, use antibiotics. It sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? In fact, it is simple if the treatment is started early, or if you have been exposed to Anthrax but you have no symptoms then, the use of antibiotics is best prevention method. But if you have been exposed to Anthrax and the symptoms are seen, a 60 days antibiotic treatment is suggested.

In case of the skin, simple antibiotics like penicillin can treat it. But the pulmonary Anthrax is threatening and a medical emergency. This needs early and continuous therapy with antibiotics. In case of bioterrorist activities and the exposure of humans to Anthrax affected environment, individuals are given antibiotics before they become infected.

Doxycycline, ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin and parenteral procaine penicillin G are the four major antibiotics recommended by the FDA.


We humans have a popular saying, “Prevention is better than cure”.

It is true that Anthrax can be treated with antibiotics if it’s caught early. Where the problem arises is the thinking of people. Most people think it as a minor disease as it mainly affects animals. This is why many people don’t seek treatment until it’s too late to treat. And of course, without treatment, the chances of dying from it increase.

You can reduce your risk by having the anthrax vaccine. BioThrax vaccine is the only vaccine approved by the FDA, which is available for general public. There are thousands of people who work in such situations that put them at high risk of getting infected, such as military personnel, scientists, farmers and veterinarian. This vaccine is given to such people who have a high risk of it.

Well by now we all have got the idea of how deadly Anthrax can be, the causes, the symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. These are the things everyone must be aware of so that you can keep yourself and others away and safe from this disease. Another thing we all should know about is the prognosis for Anthrax infection. This too depends on the type of infection and how timely and continuously antibiotic treatment has been initiated. Pulmonary form  (caused by inhaling spores from the environment) has the worst prognosis. It might be bad even if the diagnosis and treatment have been initiated properly, but the other forms of it will have good outcomes if the diagnosis and treatments are initiated properly and in time.

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