Anthrax is a potentially deadly infectious disease that affects both animals and humans. The infection was well-known in 2001 when envelopes containing anthrax spores have been sent to certain persons in the USA.


The disease is caused by a rod-shaped bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. The bacterium is extremely durable and can survive in soil for decades as a very resistant spore. Anthrax bacteria infect animals, especially ruminants (cows, sheep, camels, horses, etc.) and human can contract this infection when in close contact with these animals. Another option of disease spread is bioterrorism, e.g. a deliberate cultivation of anthrax bacilli in a laboratory and their subsequent use as biological weapon. Regarding the "naturally" occurring anthrax of livestock, this one has been practically eradicated in developed countries with modern agriculture.


There are multiple forms of anthrax that depend on body entrance of the infection. Bacterial penetration through the skin causes a skin form of anthrax. Locally an ulcer develops which grows gradually. In the vicinity of such ulcer enlarged lymph nodes appear as well as general symptoms (fever and fatigue). Ingestion of anthrax bacteria causes the digestive form of anthrax that is a much more serious type than a skin form. Symptoms correspond to severe digestive problems - abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Bacterial spread all over the body is often a fatal condition. The most deadly form is pulmonary anthrax that results from inhalation of bacterial spores. The microorganisms quickly proliferate in lung tissue causing severe pneumonia. In addition from lungs they can easily spread to blood and the rest of human body. These factors contribute to fatal ending of pulmonary anthrax even despite full medical care.


Treatment of diagnosed cases must be maintained by specialized institutions with basal life functions monitoring and support units. The therapy itself consists mainly of administering high-doses of certain antibiotics. The sooner treatment starts the better the prognosis of the patient is.

Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources