Anthrax: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment


Anthrax can be referred to as an infectious sickness that is caused by a microbe “Bacillus anthracis” and is found in the soil. The spread of anthrax became popular in 2001.

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This was the period when anthrax was used as a chemical weapon. Anthrax was used in powdered form and were delivered through letters in mails.

This was very common in the United States and it resulted in the death of 5 people with 17 hospitalized. This made anthrax attacks one of the worst occurrences in the history of America.

Causes anthrax

Anthrax can be contracted through direct or indirect exposure that may include ingesting, inhaling, or touching anthrax spores. The bacteria that causes the infection multiplies and spreads once it gets into the body.

A person can become infected through exposure to animals with the disease or biological weapons.


Humans can become exposed to anthrax through:

  • Contact with an infected domestic or wild animal
  • Contact with an infected animal product, such as hides or hides
  • Inhaling of anthrax spores, particularly when handling contaminated animal products
  • Ingestion of under cooked meat gotten from infected animals

Biological weapons

Although rare, anthrax is used as a biological weapon. Fortunately, the United States hasn’t experienced an anthrax attack since 2001.

Dangers of anthrax

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reveals that anthrax is likely one of the most used agents in a biological attack. This is possible because anthrax can be spread to the public easily.

Some other factors that makes anthrax very powerful agent that could be used for terrorist attack could include the following:

  • It can easily be developed in a lab
  • It can be naturally found in nature
  • It can be weaponized
  • Without a form storage condition, anthrax can last for long
  • Anthrax spores are odorless, tasteless and colorless because they are microscopic
  • It be dispersed easily in spray or powder without attracting too much attention

Risk for anthrax

Despite the attack in 2001, anthrax is irregular in the United States. Anthrax is often found around some farming areas in regions such as:

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  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Eastern Europe
  • Southern Europe
  • Central and South America
  • The Caribbean
  • Central and Southwestern Asia

Illness caused by anthrax is more prevalent in farm animals than humans and people are more susceptible to anthrax if;

  • They handle anthrax in a laboratory
  • Handle animals that are exposed to anthrax
  • Handle game animals
  • They are in the military and are on duty in areas with high exposure of anthrax

While anthrax can easily be spread to humans through direct contact with exposed animals, it is not transmitted through human-to-human contact.

Symptoms of anthrax

The symptoms of of the disease depends on the way a person is exposed to it. Excess exposure can make a person exhibit multiple reactions all at once.

Contact through the skin

Cutaneous anthrax occurs when a person is directly infected through skin contact. If a persons’ skin comes in contact with the disease, they may have reactions that looks like small insect bites.

The sore from the reactions may develop into blisters while turning into skin uncle with a black appearance. Although, this doesn’t cause any pain but it can lead to a series of reactions that can become deadly.

Typically, symptoms can develop between one to five days of exposure.


Symptoms are usually evident within a week for people who inhale anthrax. However, symptoms any developed as fast as 48 hours or 45 days after exposure.

Symptoms of inhaling anthrax can include:

  • Cold symptoms
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Achy muscles
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Cold
  • Shaking
  • Fatigue
  • Ingestion

Symptoms associated with gastrointestinal anthrax typically develops after a week of exposure.

Symptoms associated with ingesting anthrax may include:

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  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Loss is appetite
  • Blood diarrhea
  • Neck swelling
  • Intense stomach pain

Diagnosing anthrax

Diagnosing anthrax requires a number of methods and some tests used in diagnosing anthrax may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool samples
  • Skin tests
  • CT scan
  • Chest X-rays
  • Endoscopy (this involves the use of small tubes that is connected to a camera and used to examine the intestines or esophagus)
  • Spinal tap (this procedure is done to check a small amount of fluid around the spinal cord and brain

If anthrax is detected in the body, then text results would have to be sent to the nearest public health department lab for a second opinion.


Treatment depends on how severe the symptoms are and your doctor would have to place you on preventive care even if you’re not exhibiting symptoms of anthrax. These preventive measures may consist of anthrax vaccines and antibiotics.

Your doctor may have to administer treatment for up to 60 to 100 days if you’ve had any exposure to anthrax. Examples of medications that may be used could include doxycycline (Doryx, Monodox) or ciprofloxacin (Cipro).

Experimental medications such as antitoxin therapy may be used to rid the body off toxins caused by the microbe Bacillus anthracis, as opposed to tackling the bacteria directly.

Long-term outlook

If caught early, anthrax can be treated with antibiotics. The issue is that many individuals do not get treatment till it’s too late. The chances of death from anthrax infection is higher when treatment isn’t administered.

The FDA maintains that;

  • The risk of death for cutaneous anthrax is 20% if left untreated.
  • A person with gastrointestinal anthrax has up to 25 to 75 % of dying.
  • Not less than 80 % of people affected by anthrax die after contact with the disease if not properly treated.

Preventing anthrax

The risk of anthrax infection can be reduced if an anthrax vaccine is administered and the only acceptable vaccine that is approved by the FDA is known as Biothrax vaccine.

With proper use, a 5-dose vaccine can be given in a space of 18 months. A 3-dose vaccine is administered after exposure to anthrax. Vaccines developed for anthrax is not available to the public and is only provided to people who work in conditions that expose them the disease. People who are easily exposed to anthrax include scientists and military personnel.

The United States government possess a handful of anthrax vaccines in the event of biological attacks or situations that may expose the public to the disease.

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Oluwafemi Michael
Oluwafemi Michael is an online Mental Health Therapist, Advocate for Mental Health Awareness, a programmer, and also a content creator from Edo state, Akoko-Edo LG.