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Anthrax Survival, Symptoms and Information

What is Anthrax
How Do You Get It?
How Dangerous Is Anthrax?
What Are the Symptoms?
How Soon Do Infected People Get Sick?
How Is Anthrax Treated?
Can Anthrax Be Prevented?
What Should I Do if I Think I Have Anthrax?
What Should I Do if I Think I Have Been Exposed to Anthrax?
What Is CDC Doing To Prepare For a Possible Anthrax Attack?


What Is Anthrax?

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 not anthrax.

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 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.

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.

How can 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.

When there is a known incident, how can I prevent anthrax exposure from cross-contaminated mail?
There are no scientifically proven recommendations for preventing exposure. However, there are some common-sense steps people can take:

  • Do not open suspicious mail

  • Keep mail away from your face when you open it

  • Do not blow or sniff mail or mail contents

  • Avoid vigorous handling of mail, such as tearing or shredding

  • Wash your hands after handling the mail

  • Discard envelopes after opening mail.

What should 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 examine it.

  • 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 spilled.

  • 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 system.

  • 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 agency.

  • If possible, 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 enforcement officials.


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.


More Information from the CDC: 
How to Recognize and Handle a Suspicious Package or Envelope
Fact Sheet: Anthrax Information for Health Care Providers

Source: CDC




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