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Dr. Fred Piaser

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ANTHRAX   Anthrax is an infection that is caused by the spore forming bacteria called Bacillus anthracis. It usually infects wild and domestic animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, horses, buffalo, deer and antelopes, but it can also infect humans. The incubation period is 1 to 7 days, but most cases occur within 2 to 5 days of exposure. Anthrax is not a contagious disease so person-to-person spread is unlikely. With the recent terrorist activities taking place, it is important to know about serious illnesses such as anthrax.

There are three types of anthrax:

The most common type, accounting for 95% of all anthrax, is the cutaneous form. The germ enters the body through the skin at the site of a cut or abrasion. This occurs when an individual handles contaminated wool, hides, leather or hair products (especially goat hair). The infection begins as a raised itchy bump that, over 1- or 2-days, becomes a vesicle and then a painless ulcer with a black center (necrotic skin). Lymph glands near the infection can swell up. Twenty percent of untreated people infected with this type of anthrax will die.

The second type is inhalation anthrax, or woolsorter's disease. There are two stages to this type. It starts out as a mild upper respiratory tract infection, much like the common cold. Much more severe respiratory symptoms follow, with dyspnea (difficulty in breathing), cyanosis (blueness of skin), tachycardea (rapid heart rate), diaphoresis (sweating), and fever. While this type is not that common, it is often fatal.

The gastrointestinal type follows the consumption of contaminated meat. Signs include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever. Then there is abdominal pain, vomiting blood and severe diarrhea. Case fatality rate for this form of anthrax approaches fifty percent.

The treatment for Anthrax is with antibiotics. High-dose intravenous penicillin and doxycycline are the antibiotics of choice. Ciprofloxin is also used to treat adults with inhalation Anthrax. Ciprofloxin is not used in people under 18 years of age. There is a vaccination for anthrax that is a series of six injections.  It is recommended for all US military personnel, as well as for those who handle potentially infected animal products, such as meats , hides or fur.

Many people have asked me about prevention. While I do not recommend prophylactic antibiotic treatment or vaccination, you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease. You should also be careful not to expose yourselves to contaminated undercooked meat. Spores of anthrax are found on hides, carcasses, hair, wool, bone meal, and other by-products of domesticated and wild animals. Imported dolls and toys decorated with infected hair or hides have been a source of infection. Lastly, if you know of anyone having the symptoms described, tell them to see a doctor.

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