Anthrax is a naturally occurring gram-positive rod shaped bacteria that is in many soils. Although its notoriety has grown as a biological weapon, it is generally not contagious from one person to another. It is most commonly transmitted to people that come in contact with an infected animals or a contaminated environment. Animals generally become infected after ingesting the anthrax spores from the environment.
Although naturally occurring anthrax in the United States is rare thanks to public health and vaccination efforts, there are occasional outbreaks in wild and domesticated animals. Anthrax is most common in developing countries and those without preventatives measures, most commonly in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean, central and southwestern Asia, and southern and eastern Europe.
How do you avoid getting anthrax?
- Don’t eat raw or undercooked meat from infected animals
- If working with animals that are suspected to have anthrax, use proper precautions – wear gloves, masks, and keep flesh wounds covered to prevent contamination
- Don’t inject heroin (better yet, don’t use it at all) – this is a newly discovered problem in northern Europe!
What does anthrax look like in a person?
- Cutaneous anthrax looks like small blisters or bumps that may itch that then becomes a painless ulceration of the skin with a black center.
- Inhalation anthrax can look like many things – fever and chills, shortness of breath, chest pain/congestion, confusion or dizziness, coughing, nausea, vomiting, extreme tiredness, and body aches – sounds like so many things we can have and think is “the flu” or a “bad cold.”
- Gastrointestinal anthrax looks like inhalation anthrax, but then put in some swollen glands, painful swallowing, sore throat, hoarseness, diarrhea, and headache – still sounds like “the flu” for most people.
- Injection anthrax is just like cutaneous anthrax, except is also has deep abscesses where the injection occurred and can spread more quickly throughout the body.
Diagnosis occurs using blood tests that need to be done prior to starting antibiotics. Treatment of Anthrax includes antibiotics and sometimes antitoxins.
Anthrax in animals can look like anthrax in people, although will often be found after death. Areas of hemorrhage (bleeding) are common signs under the skin.