farm animals and env1. The anthrax bacillus is considered the first “germ” proved to cause human disease. In 2001, Anthrax was deliberately spread through the postal system by sending letters with powder containing anthrax. This caused 22 cases of anthrax infection.
2. Anthrax is a serious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores.
There are three types of anthrax:
3. Anthrax is not known to spread from one person to another.
Humans can become infected with anthrax by handling products from infected animals or by breathing in anthrax spores from infected animal products (like wool, for example). People also can become infected with digestive anthrax by eating undercooked meat from infected animals.
4. The symptoms (warning signs) of anthrax are different depending on the type of the disease:
Cutaneous: The first symptom is a small sore that develops into a blister. The blister then develops into a skin ulcer with a black area in the center.
Gastrointestinal: The first symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite, bloody diarrhea, and fever, followed by bad stomach pain.
Inhalation: The first symptoms of inhalation anthrax are like cold or flu symptoms and can include a sore throat, mild fever and muscle aches. Later symptoms include cough, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, tiredness and muscle aches.
5. Antibiotics are used to treat all three types of anthrax. Early identification and treatment are important. Treatment is usually a 60-day course of antibiotics. Success depends on the type of anthrax and how soon treatment begins.
6. Vaccination. There is a vaccine to prevent anthrax, but it is not yet available for the general public.
7. Those who are often exposed to animals, or those in developing countries, especially those without strong veterinary public health programs.
8. The bacterium’s destructive properties are due largely to toxins, which consist of three proteins: protective antigen, edema factor, and lethal factor.
Protective antigen (PA) binds to select cells of an infected person or animal and forms a channel that permits edema factor and lethal factor to enter those cells.
Edema factor (EF), once inside the cell, causes fluid to accumulate at the site of infection. EF can contribute to a fatal buildup of fluid in the cavity surrounding the lungs. It also can inhibit some of the body’s immune functions.
Lethal factor (LF), once inside the cell, disrupts a key molecular switch that regulates the cell’s functions. LF can kill infected cells or prevent them from working properly.
9. In the United States, only 236 anthrax cases were reported between 1955 and 1999, an average of about five per year. In October 2001, anthrax spores were sent through the U.S. mail and caused 18 confirmed cases of anthrax (11 inhalation, 7 cutaneous). Five individuals with inhalation anthrax died; none of the cutaneous cases was fatal.