Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the
spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis.
Anthrax most commonly occurs in hoofed mammals and can also infect humans.
Symptoms of disease vary depending on how the
disease was contracted, but usually occur within
7 days after exposure. The serious forms of human anthrax are inhalation
anthrax, cutaneous anthrax, and intestinal
Initial symptoms of inhalation anthrax infection may
resemble a common cold. After several days, the
symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock. Inhalation
anthrax is often fatal.
The intestinal disease form of anthrax may follow
the consumption of contaminated food and is characterized
by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial signs of nausea,
loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever are
followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea.
Direct person-to-person spread of anthrax is
extremely unlikely, if it occurs at all. Therefore, there
is no need to immunize or treat contacts of persons ill with anthrax, such
as household contacts, friends, or coworkers,
unless they also were also exposed to the same source of infection.
In persons exposed to anthrax, infection can be
prevented with antibiotic treatment. Early
antibiotic treatment of anthrax is essential–delay lessens chances for
survival. Anthrax usually is susceptible to
penicillin, doxycycline, and fluoroquinolones.
An anthrax vaccine also can prevent infection.
Vaccination against anthrax is not recommended for
the general public to prevent disease and is not available.