Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. It is generally acquired following contact with anthrax-infected animals or anthrax-contaminated animal products, such as contaminated hair, wool, hides, flesh, blood or excreta of infected animals and from manufactured products such as bone meal. Animals susceptible to Anthrax include domesticated and wild animals such as goats, sheep, cattle, horses and deer. Anthrax has received heightened attention recently because of its use as a biological warfare agent. The hardiness of its spores makes B. anthracis very stable and viable for many years in soil and water. They will resist sunlight for varying periods.
There are three types of anthrax infections:
- Skin (cutaneous)
- Lungs (inhalation)
- Digestive (gastrointestinal)
Infection is introduced through scratches or abrasions of the skin (such as wounds), inhalation of spores, eating insufficiently cooked infected meat or from flies.There are several instances of Inhalation anthrax occurring in the U.S. Mail resulting in death and injury of Postal employees and other individuals.
What are the Symptoms of Anthrax and How is the Disease Treated?
- Symptoms and Effects
After an incubation period of 1-7 days, the onset of inhalation anthrax is gradual. Possible symptoms include: fever, malaise, fatigue, cough and mild chest discomfort, followed by severe respiratory distress. These relatively mild symptoms can progress rapidly to respiratory distress and shock in 2-4 days followed by a range of more severe symptoms, including breathing difficulty and exhaustion. Death usually occurs within 24 hours of respiratory distress.
Treatment with antibiotics beginning one (1) day after exposure has been shown to provide significant protection against death in tests with monkeys, especially when combined with active immunization. Penicillin, doxycycline, and ciprofloxacinare all effective against most strains of the disease. Penicillin is the drug of choice for naturally occurring anthrax. If untreated, inhaled anthrax is fatal.
A vaccine is available and consists of a series of six (6) doses over 18 months with yearly boosters. This vaccine, while known to protect against anthrax acquired through the skin, is also believed to be effective against inhaled spores.
Effective decontamination can be accomplished by boiling contaminated articles in water for 30 minutes or longer and using common disinfectants. Chlorine is effective in destroying spores and vegetative cells. Remember, anthrax spores are stable, able to resist sunlight for several hours and able to remain alive in soil and water for years.
Historically, Anthrax Does Not Seem to Be a Threat Due to the Number of Hoaxes. How Much of a Threat is Anthrax?
Throughout Fiscal Years 1999 and 2000, there were approximately 178 anthrax threats received at courthouses, reproductive health service providers (clinics offering abortion services or counseling), churches, schools, and Post Offices™. During FY 2001 the U.S. Postal Service® had only approximately 60 t