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Anthrax is a serious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. While it most commonly occurs in animals (such as cattle, sheep, and antelopes), it can affect humans. Transmission typically occurs in one of two ways: from animals, or as the result of a biological weapon. Treating anthrax usually involves antibiotics, and providing relief of symptoms and complications as the body fights the bacteria.

What Is Anthrax?

Anthrax is a potentially fatal disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It is well known for its role in the 2001 bioterrorist attacks, in which the lethal bacteria were spread deliberately through the U.S. mail. Twenty-two people became ill, and five died.

Understanding Bacillus Anthracis

Bacillus anthracis is the bacterium that causes anthrax. It lives in soil. Bacillus anthracis is different than many other bacteria because it forms spores. In this form, the Bacillus anthracis can lie dormant, but may come to life under the right conditions. Once the Bacillus anthracis bacteria come to life, they can have deadly effects. Bacillus anthracis is an aerobic bacterium, meaning it requires oxygen to survive and grow.

Who Is Affected By It?

Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic animals (cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes, and other plant-eating animals), but it can also occur in humans. A person may develop the condition if he or she is exposed to infected animals, tissue from infected animals, or anthrax spores used as a bioterrorist weapon.

Types of Anthrax

There are three major types:
About 95 percent of anthrax infections are cutaneous anthrax.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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