Anthrax (Anthrax): symptoms and treatment

Anthrax (or anthrax) is a serious disease in humans and animals caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Early diagnosis and treatment of the disease are necessary. An untreated anthrax infection can be fatal, depending on how the bacteria entered the body. This article describes the three types of anthrax: inhalation, ingestion and cutaneous anthrax, the symptoms and treatment.


The name Anthrax comes from the Greek anthrakitis , the Greek word for cabbage, because a skin infection leads to the development of ulcers on the skin with a black center of dying tissue called an eschar. Anthrax has been known for about 2,000 years as a disease of grazing animals such as sheep, goats, horses and cows and can be found on all continents except Antarctica. The organism Bacillus anthracis that causes the disease was discovered by the German Koch in 1877 and is a spore-forming gram-positive Bacillus. This bacterium is therefore able to form spores that can survive in the soil for a very long time (decades to centuries). The thick capsule protects the bacterium, which survives in a latent, dormant form until it is inhaled (breathed in) or ingested (eaten) by grazing animals. It can also enter the body through a cut in the skin. After this, the bacterium sheds its capsule and begins to multiply. The bacterium spreads through the blood circulation to the lymphatic system where it multiplies even further and secretes two toxins: deadly toxin and edema toxin. Depending on the route of infection, the disease shows the following symptoms:
Skin infection , for example through a cut in the skin, starts as a small bump that itches, like an insect bite. Within 1 to 2 days, a fluid-filled bladder of about 1 to 3 cm in diameter is formed. The bladder breaks open (the fluid contains living anthrax bacteria) and becomes a painless ulcer with a black center of dying tissue (called an eschar). Multiple blisters may form. Other symptoms include swollen lymph nodes in the area of the blister or ulcer, edema (swelling), fever, headache and a general feeling of malaise. Without treatment, this form of anthrax causes death in 20% of infected people. It is not contagious from person to person, except by touching blister fluid with open skin.
Ingestive anthrax or a stomach/intestinal infection: This infection can be contracted by consuming meat contaminated by the bacteria and can have more serious consequences than a skin infection. It can be treated well by prompt administration of antibiotics. An animal that has succumbed to anthrax is a dangerous source of spores that can also be transmitted by animal products such as skin, wool and fur. Without treatment, infection leads to the following symptoms: blisters at the base of the tongue or tonsils, sore throat, loss of appetite, vomiting and fever. These symptoms are followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood and bloody stools. Within 2 to 4 days the abdominal cavity fills with fluid. Shock and death usually follow within 2 to 5 days. This form of the disease has an estimated mortality rate of 25 to 60% and is not transmissible from person to person if simple protective measures are observed (face mask, gloves, etc.).
Inhalation anthrax : This is the most deadly form of exposure. The incubation period can be 60 days or more, but is usually 2 to 3 days depending on the number of inhaled (breathed in) spores. Early symptoms include a sore throat, mild fever and muscle aches. Symptoms appear to subside temporarily until the abrupt development of severe breathing problems, excessive sweating, shock and meningitis (a regular development). Death occurs within 24 to 36 hours after the onset of these symptoms. Once the disease has developed it is difficult to treat and survival is unlikely, with the mortality rate approaching 100% even with aggressive treatment. This form of the disease, inhalation anthrax, is also not contagious from person to person. The spores must enter the body through inhalation from the environment. By growing spores in a laboratory, aerosols can be produced that can be dispersed as a gas.


Early diagnosis and treatment of anthrax infection is essential and consists of high intravenous or oral doses of antibiotics such as fluoroquinolones, including ciprofloxacin, or other antibiotics such as doxycycline, erythromycin, vancomycin and penicillin. There are known variants that are resistant to treatment with penicillin. The disease can also be prevented by inoculation with a vaccine, as used on all US military personnel stationed in Iraq, typically 3 subcutaneous injections the first 2 weeks, followed by a subcutaneous injection after 6, 12 and 18 months.

Anthrax as a biological weapon

Anthrax was first used as a biological weapon in 1915, when German agents in the United States injected horses, donkeys and cattle intended for export to Europe. Other countries followed with experiments, such as England, Japan and the United States. In 1972, the development and stockpiling of biological weapons was banned by the International Biological Weapons Convention. In 1979, a cloud of anthrax aerosols escaped from a Russian military research facility, resulting in 96 fatalities. In Japan, the terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo, also responsible for the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, has released anthrax aerosols at least 8 times, but for unknown reasons this has not resulted in illness. Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attack in the United States, a series of letters were mailed to various media companies and politicians containing the Ames variant of anthrax (developed by the US military). This led to the death of 5 people and the infection of 17 others. There are currently 17 countries suspected of maintaining a biological weapons program.

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