Anthrax and Everything You Need to Know About It

Anthrax

Anthrax is a life threatening disease that is very infectious. It is caused by the bacteria named Bacillus Anthracis which normally attacks animals most especially ruminant animals. It can mostly be transmitted by humans via contact with either infected animals or their waste products.

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Recently, Anthrax has received a lot of attention as it has become clear that the infection can be spread by a trigger in cases of a bio-terrorism or when there is a biological warfare. It is not a contagious disease however, as it doesn’t spread from one person to another.

There had recently been a number of outbreaks over the years which have been localized . The original cause of anthrax is a bacterium called Baccillus Anthracis. Anthrax can be gotten by humans in three ways:

1. Through the skin

This is otherwise called cutaneous Anthrax. It is the most common way by which the infection enters the body. It causes an ugly dark looking sore. It occurs when a person who has a cut or injuries comes in contact with an infected animal or an infected animal product.

Research studies has shown that more than 95% of the total anthrax presentations occur as cutaneous anthrax. Although it is the most common form of anthrax, it is the least lethal form.

Someone with cutaneous ulcer will notice a small sore that will most likely develop into a painless ulcer that has a black region at its centre. Once this type of anthrax is left untreated, it can spread to almost every area of the body.

2. Through the intestine

It is otherwise known as intestinal anthrax. If a person eats an under cooked meat of an infected animal, the person will most likely contract anthrax. This kind of anthrax is less common when compared to cutaneous anthrax. It is much more dangerous than cutaneous anthrax.

It causes severe symptoms such as severe abdominal pains that is characterized by sharp pains felt in the abdominal area, nausea, vomiting, severe diarrhoea, and also bleeding from the digestive tract either via the rectum or the patient could be vomiting blood.

3. Through the respiratory tract

It is otherwise known as pulmonary or inhaled anthrax. This kind of anthrax is the rarest form of anthrax that is seen. It is also the most dangerous type of anthrax known to man. Pulmonary anthrax occurs when a person breathes thousands of anthrax spores into the respiratory tract.

Most times, pulmonary anthrax usually initially starts out as cold or flu, but it later spirals quickly into pneumonia and as well hospitalization. It usually takes less than 7 days for a person who has been infected to show signs of the disease.  But for pulmonary anthrax, it takes very long almost like months before the symptoms begin to appear.

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There are some individuals who are at risk of contracting anthrax due to the kinds of jobs they do. Vetenerians, livestock keepers, farmers, travellers who may have travelled to a place where there is an outbreak of anthrax or even passed through the venue of outbreak, people who handle the waste products of animals, people who turn animal products into finished products, mail handlers and military personell who may contact it as a result of an incident when anthrax is used as a bioweapon.

Anthrax has a short relative incubation period which is between 2-5 days. Although this range of days is not entirely dependable due to the fact that like other infectious diseases, their incubation periods are quite variable. Anthrax causes some diseases based on the way and the format they enter the body. They also have almost similar symptoms.

1. Cutaneous anthrax

The cutaneous or skin form of anthrax usually starts as a red spot that appears raised. It enlarges with an appearance of redness, hardening and also it comes with blisters. The centre of the spot shows a black spot called eschar. There are usually swollen lymph nodes in the area.

The symptoms of cutaneous anthrax are severe muscular pains, severe body pains, fever, nausea, vomiting, lack of coordination and if treatment doesn’t quickly take place, it may result in death.

2. Injection Anthrax

This new form of anthrax takes place when an infected person shares needles that has been used around the site of infection with a un-infected person. Symptoms of this kind of anthrax can take months sometimes even as long as 6months before it starts to occur.

At the site of the infection, the person could develop blisters as well bumps. These blisters will be very itchy and tender to touch. Other symptoms the person will experience include fever and chills, severe itching around the sores, very deep abscesses will be found beneath the skin and the muscles.

For some people, they may develop painless sores in the skin with black centres immediately after the bumps or blisters dry off.

3. Inhalation/pulmonary anthrax

The initial onset of this disease starts usually mild (could even start as the flu) but as time progresses, the situation can worsen. Initially the patient might have chills, fever and sore throat but as time goes on, possibly in a few days, the symptoms will worsen and it will become a full blown respiratory disease.

Some patients reported that they began to experience shortness of breath and pain in the muscles of the chest and surrounding regions. Some patients might even begin to cough out blood and if not immediately treated, the patient can enter into shock, coma and eventually death.

However, with all these symptoms, inhalation anthrax can cause a full blown or true pneumonia. Most of the spores are picked up and transported into the lungs. Inside the lungs, some of  these spores are picked up by macrophages while the rest are killed and they die off.

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However the ones that didn’t die are transported through the lymphatic system through lymphatic nodes causing the inflammation of the lymph nodes. Inside the lymph nodes, the surviving spores will multiply and start producing deadly toxins. These toxins in turn travel towards every organ of the body since all organs have a lymphatic drainage.

The patient will experience necrosis and severe bleeding. Necrosis starts to occur into the lymphatic node and then it starts to spread into the adjacent lungs and in no time, the entire body.

Infection of pulmonary anthrax can be very intense and severe. Though a strong dose of antibiotics may be sufficient to treat other forms of anthrax, however, for pulmonary anthrax, even with the use of some antibiotics, the patient may still die depending the severity of the disease.

4. Intestinal Anthrax

This is a very rare form of anthrax that is is gotten from the ingestion and intake of contaminated beefs as well as infected meats.. The signs to be aware of is nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea etc. If you have these symptoms,  then please visit your nearest doctor for proper check up and treatment.

Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker