Anthrax Survival, Symptoms and Information
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) anthrax is the least serious form
of anthrax. The first symptom is a small, painless sore that
develops into a blister. One or two days later, the blister
develops a black scab in the center.
- Gastrointestinal anthrax is more serious than skin
anthrax. The initial symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite,
and fever, followed by severe abdominal pain. This is the
least common form of anthrax.
- Inhalation anthrax is the most serious form of
anthrax. This illness begins with symptoms similar to those
for a cold or the flu. If caught early, inhalation anthrax can
be treated successfully with antibiotics. If it isnít caught
early and more serious symptoms develop, inhalation anthrax
usually results in death. Almost all cold and flu symptoms are
Anthrax is not
known to spread from one person to another.
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.
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.
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 publicís 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.
anthrax is more serious because between one-fourth and more than
half of cases lead to death.
anthrax is much more severe. In 2001, about half of the cases of
inhalation anthrax ended in death.
(warning signs) of anthrax are different depending on the type
of the disease:
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.
The first symptoms are nausea, loss of appetite, bloody
diarrhea, and fever, followed by bad stomach pain.
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.)
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.
used to treat all three types of anthrax. Early identification
and treatment are important.
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.
after infection. Treatment is usually a 60-day course
of antibiotics. Success depends on the type of anthrax and how
soon treatment begins.
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.
If you are showing
symptoms of anthrax infection, call your health-care provider
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.
mail get cross-contaminated with anthrax?
CDC does not have specific studies to address this, however,
cross-contamination of the mail could occur during the
processing, sorting, and delivery of mail when an envelope comes
in contact with an envelope, piece of equipment (e.g., an
electronic sorting machine), or other surface that is
contaminated with Bacillus anthracis spores. In
addition, airborne spores in contaminated postal facilities
before they were cleaned might play a role.
is a known incident, how can I prevent anthrax exposure from
There are no scientifically proven recommendations for
preventing exposure. However, there are some common-sense steps
people can take:
Do not open
Keep mail away
from your face when you open it
Do not blow or
sniff mail or mail contents
handling of mail, such as tearing or shredding
Wash your hands
after handling the mail
after opening mail.
people do when they get a letter or package with powder?
Handling of Suspicious Packages or Envelopes*
Do not shake or
empty the contents of any suspicious package or envelope.
Do not carry the
package or envelope, show it to others or allow others to
Put the package
or envelope down on a stable surface; do not sniff, touch,
taste, or look closely at it or at any contents which may have
Alert others in
the area about the suspicious package or envelope. Leave the
area, close any doors, and take actions to prevent others from
entering the area. If possible, shut off the ventilation
WASH hands with
soap and water to prevent spreading potentially infectious
material to face or skin. Seek additional instructions for
exposed or potentially exposed persons.
If at work,
notify a supervisor, a security officer, or a law enforcement
official. If at home, contact the local law enforcement
create a list of persons who were in the room or area when
this suspicious letter or package was recognized and a list of
persons who also may have handled this package or letter. Give
this list to both the local public health authorities and law
CDC is working with
state and local health authorities to prepare for an anthrax
attack. Activities include:
and procedures to respond to an attack using anthrax.
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.
with health departments, veterinarians, and laboratories to
watch for suspected cases of anthrax. Developing a national
electronic database to track potential cases of anthrax.
there are enough safe laboratories for quickly testing of
suspected anthrax cases.
hospitals, laboratories, emergency response teams, and
health-care providers to make sure they have the supplies they
need in case of an attack.
More Information from the CDC:
How to Recognize and Handle a Suspicious Package or Envelope
Fact Sheet: Anthrax Information for Health Care Providers