Frequently Asked Questions
is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus
anthracis. Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic lower
vertebrates (cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes, and other herbivores), but
it can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue
from infected animals.
has anthrax become a current issue? Because
anthrax is considered to be a potential agent for use in biological warfare, the
Department of Defense (DoD) has begun mandatory vaccination of all active duty
military personnel who might be involved in conflict.
is anthrax transmitted? Anthrax
infection can occur in three forms: cutaneous (skin), inhalation, and
gastrointestinal. B. anthracis spores can live in the soil for many years, and humans
can become infected with anthrax by handling products from infected animals or
by inhaling anthrax spores from contaminated animal products. Anthrax can also
be spread by eating undercooked meat from infected animals. It is rare to find
infected animals in the United States.
are the symptoms of anthrax? Symptoms
of disease vary depending on how the disease was contracted, but symptoms
usually occur within 7 days. Cutaneous:
Most (about 95%) anthrax infections occur when the bacterium enters a cut or
abrasion on the skin, such as when handling contaminated wool, hides, leather or
hair products (especially goat hair) of infected animals. Skin infection begins
as a raised itchy bump that resembles an insect bite but within 1-2 days
develops into a vesicle and then a painless ulcer, usually 1-3 cm in diameter,
with a characteristic black necrotic (dying) area in the center. Lymph glands in
the adjacent area may swell. About 20% of untreated cases of cutaneous anthrax
will result in death. Deaths are rare with appropriate antimicrobial therapy. Inhalation: Initial symptoms may resemble a common cold. After
several days, the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock.
Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal. Intestinal:
The intestinal disease form of anthrax may follow the consumption of
contaminated meat and is characterized by an acute inflammation of the
intestinal tract. Initial signs of nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever are
followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea. Intestinal
anthrax results in death in 25% to 60% of cases.
is anthrax usually found? Anthrax
can be found globally. It is more common in developing countries or countries
without veterinary public health programs. Certain regions of the world (South
and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean,
and the Middle East) report more anthrax in animals than others.
there a way to prevent infection? In
countries where anthrax is common and vaccination levels of animal herds are
low, humans should avoid contact with livestock and animal products and avoid
eating meat that has not been properly slaughtered and cooked. Also, an anthrax
vaccine has been licensed for use in humans. The vaccine is reported to be 93%
effective in protecting against anthrax.
is the anthrax vaccine? The
anthrax vaccine is manufactured and distributed by BioPort, Corporation,
Lansing, Michigan. The vaccine is a cell-free filtrate vaccine, which means it
contains no dead or live bacteria in the preparation. The final product contains
no more than 2.4 mg of aluminum hydroxide as adjuvant. Anthrax vaccines intended
for animals should not be used in humans.
should get vaccinated against anthrax? The
Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommend anthrax vaccination
for the following groups: Persons
who work directly with the organism in the laboratory
Persons who work with imported animal hides or furs in areas where
standards are insufficient to prevent exposure to anthrax spores.
Persons who handle potentially infected animal products in high-incidence
areas. (Incidence is low in the United States, but veterinarians who travel to
work in other countries where incidence is higher should consider being
vaccinated.) Military personnel
deployed to areas with high risk for exposure to the organism (as when it is
used as a biological warfare weapon). The
anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program in the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office
can be reached at 1-877-GETVACC (1-877-438-8222). http://www.anthrax.osd.mil
Pregnant women should be vaccinated only if absolutely necessary.
is the protocol for anthrax vaccination? The
immunization consists of three subcutaneous injections given 2 weeks apart
followed by three additional subcutaneous injections given at 6, 12, and 18
months. Annual booster injections of the vaccine are recommended thereafter.
there adverse reactions to the anthrax vaccine? Mild local reactions occur in 30% of
recipients and consist of slight tenderness and redness at the injection site.
Severe local reactions are infrequent and consist of extensive swelling of the
forearm in addition to the local reaction. Systemic reactions occur in fewer
than 0.2% of recipients.
is anthrax diagnosed? Anthrax
is diagnosed by isolating B. anthracis from
the blood, skin lesions, or respiratory secretions or by measuring specific
antibodies in the blood of persons with suspected cases.
there a treatment for anthrax? Doctors
can prescribe effective antibiotics. To be effective, treatment should be
initiated early. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal.