Anthrax is a serious infectious disease which is caused by Bacillus anthracis. Bacillus anthracis is a gram-positive and rod-shaped bacterium. This bacterium is naturally found in soil and affects domestic and wild animals. It is a spore-forming bacteria and its spores can remain dormant for years until they find their specific host. The common hosts for anthrax are domestic or wild livestock, like goats, cattle, sheep, and horses.
Mostly, Anthrax is found in agricultural regions of South and Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, southwestern and central Asia, eastern and southern Europe, and the Caribbean.
Although this condition is rarely found and is not contagious, people can get sick with anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or their contaminated products. Anthrax can cause severe illness in both humans and animals.
Anthrax is rarely found in the United States. In the United States, yearly vaccination is recommended in areas where domestic animals have had anthrax in the past.
The domestic and wild animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, deer, and antelope can become infected with Bacillus anthracis. These animals get affected when they ingest the spores of bacterium present in contaminated soil, water or plants. The people having domestic animals affected by anthrax in the past should have routine vaccination to prevent the risk of outbreaks.
Human gets infected with anthrax when the spores of Bacillus anthracis get into the body. When anthrax spores get inside the body, they can be “activated”, and the bacteria start to multiply. The multiplication of bacterium inside the body causes severe illness as a huge amount of toxins are produced.
Anthrax is not contagious, but infection can spread person to person via direct contact with anthrax skin lesions. Bacillus anthracis can enter the body through a wound on the skin and spread inside the body. A person can also become infected with anthrax by eating contaminated meat or inhaling the spores.
Types and Symptoms of Anthrax
The severity of anthrax symptoms depends upon the type of infection. It can take a few days to more than 2 months to show symptoms.
All types of anthrax have the potential to cause severe illness. Therefore, the symptoms shouldn’t be ignored. It should be treated as soon as possible because the prolonged severe illness can lead to death. Some of the symptoms associated with anthrax are the following:
1- Cutaneous Anthrax
It is the most common form of anthrax and is considered the least dangerous. It occurs when the Bacillus bacterium enters the human body through a sore or lesion on the skin. It is one of the most common routes the anthrax disease takes. Cutaneous anthrax is seldom fatal.
It can show the following symptoms:
- Small itchy bumps or blisters
- Swelling around the anthrax sore
- Painless skin sore with a black center on the face, arms, neck, or hands
2- Gastrointestinal Anthrax
It occurs when a person eats uncooked meat of an infected animal. After ingestion, anthrax spores grow and affect the upper gastrointestinal tract (throat and esophagus). It can show the following symptoms:
- Chills and Fever
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sore throat
- Swelling of throat and glands associated with it
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Stomach pain
- Bloody diarrhea
- Redness of face and eyes
- Swelling of abdomen or stomach
3- Inhalation Anthrax
It is the most deadly type of infection and even with treatment, it can be fatal. It occurs when the spores of Bacillus anthracis are inhaled. It can show the following symptoms:
- Chills and fever
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort in Chest region
- State of confusion
- Stomach problems
4- Injection Anthrax
Injection anthrax is a rare condition and is recently identified as a route of anthrax infection. It affects heroin users and is caused by Bacillus anthracis. It causes an infection deep under the skin or in the muscle where the drug was injected by the user. Its symptoms are similar to those of cutaneous anthrax. Generally, it shows the following symptoms:
- Chills and fever
- Small itchy blisters or bumps around the area, where the drug was injected
- Abscesses in the muscle where the drug was injected
- Swelling around the sores or blisters
- Painless skin sores with a black center
As the disease progresses, it shows other symptoms like:
- Meningitis (potentially life-threatening inflammation of the spinal cord and brain)
- Multiple organ failure
Diagnosis of Anthrax
In the United States, rare cases of anthrax are found. The infections of anthrax can be diagnosed using CDC guidance and case definition which are available to help doctors. Various diagnostic tests can be performed.
Chest X-rays or CT scans can help in the diagnosis of “inhalation anthrax”. These scans help in the identification of pleural effusion or mediastinal widening, which are usually found in patients with inhalation anthrax.
The level of antibodies or toxins can also be tested in blood. The testing of skin lesions, spinal fluid, and respiratory secretions can also be performed to confirm the type and intensity of infection.
All the types of testing must be performed before taking antibiotics for treatment.
Treatment of Anthrax
Anthrax is treated in various ways. The use of antitoxin and antibiotics can be effective to treat this condition.
The serious cases of anthrax require hospitalization. For severe infection, continuous fluid drainage and breathing through mechanical ventilation is being used. Some of the treatments are the following:
If someone is having the symptoms of anthrax, it’s important to get medical care as quickly as possible to avoid future severe complications.
All types of anthrax infections can be treated with the use of appropriate antibiotics. The doctor can suggest suitable antibiotics for the treatment of anthrax, depending upon the severity of the condition and the medical history of the patient. Intravenous antibiotics (medicine given through the vein) can also be used for this purpose.
When anthrax spores are ingested, these become “activated” inside the body. Then, the active spores of Bacillus anthracis start to multiply and spread throughout the body. In this way, a huge amount of bacterial toxins is accumulated within the body. These Anthrax toxins cause severe illness.
“Antitoxins” are effective for the treatment of this condition. Antitoxins target anthrax toxins within the body. Antitoxins can be used along with other treatment methods.
Anthrax is caused by Bacillus anthracis and can lead to deadly infections. Therefore, it should be treated on time. If a person lives or travels in a country where anthrax infections are commonly found (like, developing countries) then, he/she must avoid contact with livestock and eating meat that hasn’t been properly cooked.