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Anthrax: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About anthrax

Anthrax is an infectious disease very rarely seen in the human population. It is also known by the name of ‘woolsorter’s disease’. It is primarily a disease of the animals especially grazing animals like sheep, goat and cattle. Very rarely, humans may get infected as a result of exposure to the infected animal or animal products. This disease is not transmitted from person to person.

Anthrax: Incidence, age and sex

Anthrax is a disease which is very seldom seen in humans. It may be seen in any age group but occupational exposure in the adult population is likely.

Signs and symptoms of anthrax: Diagnosis

Anthrax can affect various organs including skin, lungs and digestive system. The symptoms of anthrax may begin within a week after exposure. When Anthrax affects the skin, it is called cutaneous anthrax and this is the most common presentation. This may occur when the skin comes in contact with the infected animal or animal products like wool and hide. The infection begins with a tiny boil on the skin which may resemble an insect bite. This boil may ulcerate with a black crust like substance in the centre of an ulcer. A painless ulcer with a black crust in its centre is a characteristic feature of cutaneous anthrax. Your examining doctor may find enlarged lymph nodes in the vicinity of the ulcer.

Ingestion of anthrax spores via contaminated food may result in gastro-intestinal problems like feeling of queasiness, vomiting, loose stools, blood in stools or even abdominal pain. Anthrax spores may enter respiratory passages causing symptoms resembling the common cold. This is a very rare but extremely fatal presentation of anthrax. Severe symptoms like breathlessness and respiratory failure may ensue, if treatment is not started promptly.

Causes and prevention of anthrax

Anthrax is caused by bacteria named Bacillus anthracis, which commonly lives in the soil. It may remain viable in the soil for several years by being in dormant state called spores. It may infect certain animals like cattle, sheep and goats which may transmit this infection to humans. It is not infectious among humans. The infection from an infected animal can be transmitted either through inhalation of bacterial spores or ingestion of food contaminated with spores. Bacterial spores may also enter the skin through any cuts or open wounds while handling hides of infected animal. Anthrax in humans is most commonly seen in occupations like farming, vets and defence personnel.

Good agricultural and farming hygiene and safe disposal of anthrax carcasses by incineration are some steps which may help in prevention and spread of anthrax. Vaccine against anthrax is also available for humans and animals. Human anthrax vaccine is not available to general population. Only high risk groups like military personnel, farming people and vets are vaccinated against anthrax.

Anthrax: Complications

The complications of anthrax are usually seen in the lungs. An affected individual may end up in respiratory failure or death if prompt treatment of lung anthrax is not given. Anthrax spores may be used as part of bio terrorism. The anthrax spores are strong and can remain viable for long periods of time. Such qualities of spores make them perfect to be used as a bio terror weapon which may lead to world wide health hazards.

Anthrax: Treatment

The culture and isolation of bacteria in an infected sample like throat swab, sputum, pus in ulcer and stool is the key to diagnosis. Anthrax may be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Long term antibiotic medications, both oral and intravenous, are the treatment of choice. Dramatic response may be seen after starting antibiotics.