Anthrax is a serious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis, a bacterium that forms spores. A bacterium is a very small organism made up of one cell. Many bacteria can cause disease. A spore is a cell that is dormant (asleep) but may come to life with the right conditions.
There are three types of anthrax:
- skin (cutaneous)
- lungs (inhalation)
- digestive (gastrointestinal)
How Do You Get It?
Anthrax is not known to spread from one person to another.
Anthrax from animals. 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 gastrointestinal anthrax by eating undercooked meat from infected animals.
Anthrax as a weapon. Anthrax also can be used as a weapon. This happened in the United States in 2001. Anthrax was deliberately spread through the postal system by sending letters with powder containing anthrax. This caused 22 cases of anthrax infection.
How Dangerous Is Anthrax?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies agents with recognized bioterrorism potential into three priority areas (A, B and C). Anthrax is classified as a Category A agent. Category A agents are those that:
- pose the greatest possible threat for a bad effect on public health
- may spread across a large area or need public awareness
- need a great deal of planning to protect the public’s health
In most cases, early treatment with antibiotics can cure cutaneous anthrax. Even if untreated, 80 percent of people who become infected with cutaneous anthrax do not die. Gastrointestinal anthrax is more serious because between one-fourth and more than half of cases lead to death. Inhalation anthrax is much more severe. In 2001, about half of the cases of inhalation anthrax ended in death.
What Are the Symptoms?
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. The sore, blister and ulcer do not hurt.
- 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. (Caution: Do not assume that just because a person has cold or flu symptoms that they have inhalation anthrax.)
How Soon Do Infected People Get Sick?
Symptoms can appear within 7 days of coming in contact with the bacterium for all three types of anthrax. For inhalation anthrax, symptoms can appear within a week or can take up to 42 days to appear.
How Is Anthrax Treated?
Antibiotics are used to treat all three types of anthrax. Early identification and treatment are important.
Prevention after exposure. Treatment is different for a person who is exposed to anthrax, but is not yet sick. Health-care providers will use antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin, doxycycline, or penicillin) combined with the anthrax vaccine to prevent anthrax infection.
Treatment after infection. Treatment is usually a 60-day course of antibiotics. Success depends on the type of anthrax and how soon treatment begins.
Can Anthrax Be Prevented?
Vaccination. There is a vaccine to prevent anthrax, but it is not yet available for the general public. Anyone who may be exposed to anthrax, including certain members of the U.S. armed forces, laboratory workers, and workers who may enter or re-enter contaminated areas, may get the vaccine. Also, in the event of an attack using anthrax as a weapon, people exposed would get the vaccine.
What Should I Do if I Think I Have Anthrax?
If you are showing symptoms of anthrax infection, call your health-care provider right away.
What Should I Do if I Think I Have Been Exposed to Anthrax?
Contact local law enforcement immediately if you think that you may have been exposed to anthrax. This includes being exposed to a suspicious package or envelope that contains powder.
What Is CDC Doing To Prepare For a Possible Anthrax Attack?
CDC is working with state and local health authorities to prepare for an anthrax attack. Activities include:
- Developing plans and procedures to respond to an attack using anthrax.
- Training and equipping emergency response teams to help state and local governments control infection, gather samples, and perform tests. Educating health-care providers, media, and the general public about what to do in the event of an attack.
- Working closely with health departments, veterinarians, and laboratories to watch for suspected cases of anthrax. Developing a national electronic database to track potential cases of anthrax.
- Ensuring that there are enough safe laboratories for quickly testing of suspected anthrax cases.
- Working with hospitals, laboratories, emergency response teams, and health-care providers to make sure they have the supplies they need in case of an attack.
The following is a form message for Federal, State and Local officials to send out in the event of an Anthrax Exposure or Terrorist attack, however it does offer good information, for prevention and preparedness.
Anthrax Exposure Extended Message
Health and Safety Information for the First Hours
Health and Safety Information for the First Hours
1. What is happening?
2. What is anthrax?
3. What are the symptoms of anthrax?
4. Can it be spread from person to person?
5. What to do if you have the symptoms of anthrax
6. What to do if you were at or near the xxx area where anthrax might have been released
7. What to do if you were not near the xxx area where anthrax may have been released but are concerned about it anyway
8. How can you protect yourself?
9. What is being done and how to get more information
What is happening?
- This is an urgent health message from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Please pay careful attention to this message to protect your health and that of others.
- Public health officials believe that the spores that cause anthrax disease may have been deliberately released in the xxx area.
- At this time, we do not know the extent or source of the anthrax release. Local, state, and federal officials, including HHS, FBI, and Homeland Security, are working together. Updated announcements will be made as soon as these officials know more.
- Anthrax disease is not known to spread from person to person so people do not have to avoid contact with one another.
- Based on what we know now, only those people who were in xxx area on xxx date are at risk for getting sick.
- There are treatments for anthrax. Treatment should start as soon as possible after exposure to anthrax.
- HHS is working to get treatments to the people who need them.
- We have challenges ahead, and we are working to find out more about this outbreak. By staying informed and following instructions from health officials, you can protect yourself, your family, and the community against this public health threat.
- For more information about anthrax, visit the HHS website at http://www.hhs.gov, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) anthrax page at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/anthrax/, or call the CDC Hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-800-CDC-INFO end_of_the_skype_highlighting for the latest updates.
- This message contains additional information that can help protect your health and the health of others.
What is anthrax?
- Anthrax is a disease caused by bacteria that form spores. When a person comes into contact with those spores, they may become ill. The spores can infect your skin, lungs, or digestive system.
- Some forms of anthrax bacteria exist in nature and can cause disease. It can also be spread on purpose as a powder or through the air. The spores that cause anthrax disease may have been deliberately released in the xxx area.
- Antibiotics are used to treat all three types of anthrax in your skin, lungs, or digestive system. Early diagnosis and treatment with the right antibiotic is important.
What are the symptoms of anthrax?
- After contact with the anthrax spores, symptoms of anthrax may appear within 7 days.
- Depending on how a person comes into contact with the spores, three types of illness can occur.
- When a person breathes in the anthrax spores, this is called inhalational anthrax and is the most serious form of the disease. The first symptoms are like those of the flu; later symptoms may include severe breathing problems.
- When anthrax spores enter a cut on the skin, this is called cutaneous anthrax and it responds well to treatment. Symptoms include sores or blisters. Initially, these sores or blisters may look like an insect bite.
- When a person eats or drinks anthrax spores, this is called gastrointestinal anthrax. Symptoms include nausea, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.
Can it be spread from person to person?
- The anthrax illness does not spread from person to person.
- People with suspected illness do not need to be quarantined or isolated.
- Based on what we know now, only those people who were in xxx area on xxx date are at risk for getting anthrax.
What to do if you have symptoms of anthrax
- If you have been near the xxx area and you think your symptoms might be due to exposure to anthrax, begin treatment as soon as possible.
- Antibiotics can be used to treat all types of anthrax. However, the right antibiotic must be given quickly to help you recover.
- Call your doctor or local public health department at xxx-xxx-xxxx. Describe your symptoms and explain that you think you might have been exposed to anthrax and also what symptoms you have.
What to do if you were at or near the xxx location where anthrax might have been released
- If you have been near xxx location on xxx date, call your doctor or local public health department at xxx-xxx-xxxx for specific instructions on where you can go to see if you have been exposed to anthrax.
- If contact with anthrax is suspected, antibiotics may help prevent you from getting sick or lessen the illness if it does appear. Treatment may include preventive care for a couple of months with antibiotics and may be combined with a vaccine to help prevent anthrax infection.
- Health authorities will help determine if you need antibiotics or other medical care. Getting antibiotics or vaccine is not recommended if you have not been exposed to anthrax.
What to do if you were not near the xxx area where anthrax may have been released but are concerned about it anyway
- It is natural to be concerned or afraid at a time like this. If you do not have any symptoms and were not near the xxx area on xxx date, you most likely have not had contact with anthrax and do not have anthrax disease.
- By staying informed and following instructions from health officials, you can protect yourself, your family, and the community against this public health threat.
- Stay informed by turning to the radio, television, or Internet news for updated health and safety announcements.
- With your cooperation, we will have the best chance to protect the health and safety of our community.
- Health authorities are working to help people who may have been exposed to anthrax, particularly those who have symptoms of anthrax.
How can you protect yourself?
- If you see a strange package, envelope, or other container that you suspect may contain anthrax, do not open it. Leave the area and stop others from entering the area. Call 911 or the local police at xxx-xxx-xxxx for more instructions.
- A vaccine exists to prevent anthrax, but it is not recommended for the general public since few people are normally at risk for anthrax. It may be given to people who have been exposed to anthrax in this current situation.
- Stay informed. Listen for announcements from public health officials about what areas to avoid.
What is being done and how to get more information
- Local, state and federal officials, including HHS, FBI, and Homeland Security, are working together. Updated announcements will be made as soon as these officials know more.
- Public health officials will share information and give more instructions as the situation develops and they learn more.
- Go to [insert local media information here] to hear the latest information from local officials.
- For more information on anthrax, visit the HHS website at http://www.hhs.gov, visit the CDC’s anthrax page at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/anthrax/, or call the CDC Hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO for the latest updates.