Anthrax is a potentially fatal disease of cattle, horses,
sheep, and goats in underdeveloped agricultural regions of South and Central
America, southern and eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the
Caribbean as well as in wild livestock in the United States. Anthrax is caused
by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis, which produces
spores that spread the infection.
Anthrax can occur in humans who
have been exposed to infected animals or animal products or to anthrax spores.
Anthrax is not a contagious disease and cannot be spread from person to person.
Humans can become infected with anthrax in three ways:
Through a break in the skin (cutaneous
By eating contaminated food (gastrointestinal anthrax and
oropharyngeal [back of the throat] anthrax)
By breathing the
bacterial spores (inhalational anthrax)
In a terrorist attack, bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis could be released into the air or in water or food.
Anyone who inhaled, drank, or ate the bacteria could be infected.
all three types of exposure can be treated with antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, or penicillin. Prompt treatment may help reduce the
potential severity of the infection. There is also a vaccine against anthrax.
Currently, this vaccine is not recommended or available for the general
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
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