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About Anthrax
Welcome to the Anthrax Health Channel by eMedTV. Anthrax is a serious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. While anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic animals (such as cattle, sheep, goats, antelopes, and other plant-eating animals), it can also occur in humans. There are three major types of anthrax: cutaneous (skin) anthrax, inhalation anthrax, and gastrointestinal anthrax. Anthrax is well known for its role in the 2001 bioterrorist attacks, in which the lethal anthrax bacteria were spread deliberately through the U.S. mail. Anthrax treatment typically involves antibiotics while also providing relief of symptoms and complications as the body fights the anthrax bacteria.
How Is Anthrax Transmitted?
Anthrax transmission typically occurs in one of two ways: from animals, or as the result of a biological weapon. Transmission of anthrax from animals can occur when a person handles products from an infected animal or breathes in anthrax spores from infected animal products, such as wool. When anthrax is used as a weapon, transmission can occur when someone puts a powder containing anthrax into letters or into the air via heating or air conditioning systems.
Anthrax is not contagious; it cannot be transmitted from person to person.
What Are the Symptoms of Anthrax?
Anthrax symptoms can vary, depending on the type of anthrax, and often (though not always) appear within 7 days of contact with the anthrax bacteria. The first cutaneous anthrax symptom is a small, raised sore that resembles an insect bite, but within days develops into a blister. Some gastrointestinal anthrax symptoms can include nausea, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting blood. Inhalation anthrax symptoms can range from cold or flu symptoms to severe breathing problems.
How Is Anthrax Treated?
Anthrax treatment typically involves antibiotics and providing relief of symptoms and complications as the body fights the bacteria. If a diagnosis is made early, treatment with antibiotics can be successful. Once the more severe symptoms begin to develop, the destructive anthrax toxins have already risen to high levels, which can make treatment difficult.
Is There an Anthrax Vaccine?
There is a vaccine to prevent anthrax, but it is not yet available for the general public. Anyone who may be exposed to anthrax may get the vaccine. These groups of people may include:
  • Certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • Laboratory workers
  • Workers who may enter or re-enter contaminated areas.
Also, in the event of an attack using anthrax as a weapon, people exposed would get the vaccine.
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