Dealing with Biological Threats

Dealing with Biological Threats

The following information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about anthrax is provided to help keep our community informed and prepared for biological threats.

What is Anthrax?

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax most commonly occurs in hooved mammals and can also infect humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals.

Symptoms of disease usually occur within 7 days after exposure and vary depending on how the disease was contracted. The serious forms of human anthrax are inhalation anthrax, cutaneous anthrax, and intestinal anthrax. Infection can be treated with antibiotics. However, if not promptly treated, inhalation of anthrax is often fatal. Initial symptoms of inhalation anthrax infection may resemble a common cold. After several days, the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock.

Most anthrax infections occur when the bacterium enters a cut or break in the skin (cutaneous) when handling contaminated products of infected animals (such as wool, hides or leathers, or other hair products, especially goat hair). The skin infection begins as a raised itchy bump resembling an insect bite. Within 1-2 days, the bump develops into a vesicle and then a painless ulcer about 1-3 cm in diameter, with a characteristic black dying area in the center. Additionally, lymph glands in the adjacent area may swell. Deaths are rare in cutaneous infections with appropriate antimicrobial therapy.

The intestinal disease form of anthrax may follow the consumption of contaminated food and undercooked meat from infected animals. Infection is characterized by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial signs of nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever are followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea.

Direct person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely, if it occurs at all. According to the Center for Disease Control, unless you are also exposed to the same source of infection as the patient (such as B. anthracis spores or contaminated animal products), communicability is not a concern with patients who have inhalation anthrax.