|
 

Anthrax FAQs

Facts about the potentially deadly disease.


Source: Center for Disease Control

What is anthrax?


Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax most commonly occurs in wild and domestic lower vertebrates (cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes, and other herbivores), but it can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals.


Why has anthrax become a current issue?


Because anthrax is considered to be a potential agent for use in biological warfare, the Department of Defense (DoD) has begun mandatory vaccination of all active duty military personnel who might be involved in conflict.


How common is anthrax and who can get it?


Anthrax is most common in agricultural regions where it occurs in animals. These include South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. When anthrax affects humans, it is usually due to an occupational exposure to infected animals or their products. Workers who are exposed to dead animals and animal products from other countries where anthrax is more common may become infected with B. anthracis (industrial anthrax). Anthrax in wild livestock has occurred in the United States.


How is anthrax transmitted?


Anthrax infection can occur in three forms: cutaneous (skin), through inhalation, and gastrointestinally. B. anthracis spores can live in the soil for many years, and humans can become infected with anthrax by handling products from infected animals or by inhaling anthrax spores from contaminated animal products. Anthrax can also be spread by eating undercooked meat from infected animals. It is rare to find infected animals in the United States.


What are the symptoms of anthrax?


Symptoms of disease vary depending on how the disease was contracted, but symptoms usually occur within 7 days.

Cutaneous: Most (about 95%) anthrax infections occur when the bacterium enters a cut or abrasion on the skin, such as when handling contaminated wool, hides, leather or hair products (especially goat hair) of infected animals. Skin infection begins as a raised itchy bump that resembles an insect bite but within 1-2 days develops into a vesicle and then a painless ulcer, usually 1-3 cm in diameter, with a characteristic black necrotic (dying) area in the center. Lymph glands in the adjacent area may swell. About 20% of untreated cases of cutaneous anthrax will result in death. Deaths are rare with appropriate antimicrobial therapy.

Inhalation: Initial symptoms may resemble a common cold. After several days, the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock. Inhalation anthrax is usually fatal.

Intestinal: The intestinal disease form of anthrax may follow the consumption of contaminated meat and is characterized by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Initial signs of nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever are followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea. Intestinal anthrax results in death in 25% to 60% of cases.


Where is anthrax usually found?


Anthrax can be found globally. It is more common in developing countries or countries without veterinary public health programs. Certain regions of the world (South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Middle East) report more anthrax in animals than others.


Can anthrax be spread from person-to-person?


Direct person-to-person spread of anthrax is extremely unlikely to occur. Communicability is not a concern in managing or visiting with patients with inhalational anthrax.


Is there a way to prevent infection?


In countries where anthrax is common and vaccination levels of animal herds are low, humans should avoid contact with livestock and animal products and avoid eating meat that has not been properly slaughtered and cooked. Also, an anthrax vaccine has been licensed for use in humans. The vaccine is reported to be 93% effective in protecting against anthrax.


What is the anthrax vaccine?


The anthrax vaccine is manufactured and distributed by BioPort, Corporation, Lansing, Michigan. The vaccine is a cell-free filtrate vaccine, which means it contains no dead or live bacteria in the preparation. The final product contains no more than 2.4 mg of aluminum hydroxide as adjuvant. Anthrax vaccines intended for animals should not be used in humans.


Who should get vaccinated against anthrax?


The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommend anthrax vaccination for the following groups:

  • Persons who work directly with the organism in the laboratory
  • Persons who work with imported animal hides or furs in areas where standards are insufficient to prevent exposure to anthrax spores.
  • Persons who handle potentially infected animal products in high-incidence areas. (Incidence is low in the United States, but veterinarians who travel to work in other countries where incidence is higher should consider being vaccinated.)
  • Military personnel deployed to areas with high risk for exposure to the organism (as when it is used as a biological warfare weapon).
The anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program in the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office can be reached at 1-877-GETVACC (1-877-438-8222). Pregnant women should be vaccinated only if absolutely necessary.


What is the protocol for anthrax vaccination?


The immunization consists of three subcutaneous injections given 2 weeks apart followed by three additional subcutaneous injections given at 6, 12, and 18 months. Annual booster injections of the vaccine are recommended thereafter.


Are there adverse reactions to the anthrax vaccine?


Mild local reactions occur in 30% of recipients and consist of slight tenderness and redness at the injection site. Severe local reactions are infrequent and consist of extensive swelling of the forearm in addition to the local reaction. Systemic reactions occur in fewer than 0.2% of recipients.


How is anthrax diagnosed?


Anthrax is diagnosed by isolating B. anthracis from the blood, skin lesions, or respiratory secretions or by measuring specific antibodies in the blood of persons with suspected cases.


Is there a treatment for anthrax?


Doctors can prescribe effective antibiotics. To be effective, treatment should be initiated early. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal.


Where can I get more information about the recent Department of Defense decision to require men and women in the Armed Services to be vaccinated against anthrax?


The Department of Defense recommends that servicemen and women contact their chain of command on questions about the vaccine and its distribution. The anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program in the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office can be reached at 1-877-GETVACC (1-877-438-8222).

Highlights

Teaching Racism & Discrimination in America
The issues of racism, prejudice, and discrimination have plagued the United States since it was founded, and racially motivated killings still occur with frequency today. Help your students understand the historical contexts of racism—with references on slavery, immigration, and the civil rights movement—to frame your conversation on modern instances of prejudice.

Poptropica Teaching Guides
Poptropica is one of the Internet's most popular sites for kids—and now it's available as an app for the iPad! It's not just a place to play games; each of the islands featured on the site provides a learning opportunity. Check out our teaching guides to four of Poptropica's islands: 24 Carrot Island, Time Tangled Island, Mystery Train Island, and Mythology Island.

Teaching with Comics: Galactic Hot Dogs
Reach reluctant readers and English-language learners with comics! Our original teaching guides to the Galactic Hot Dogs comic series (chapters 1-4 and 5-8), as found on Funbrain.com (and now in print!), will take students on a cosmic adventure while engaging their creative minds. Plus, find even more activities for teaching with comics, featuring many other classic stories.

July Calendar of Events
July is full events that you can incorporate into your standard curriculum. Our Educators' Calendar outlines activities for each event, including: Canada Day (7/1), Independence Day (7/4/1776), World Population Day (7/11), Bastille Day in France (7/14), National Ice Cream Day (7/19), First Moon Landing (7/20/1969), World War I Began (7/28/1914), Author J.K. Rowling's Birthday (7/31/1965). Plus, celebrate Read an Almanac Month and Recreation and Parks Month all July long!

Videos
Interested in using different types of media in your classroom? We have a growing collection of videos, with related activities, for holidays and events, including: Independence Day, slavery & the Civil War, American History, U.S. Presidents, handwashing awareness, the Common Core, women's history, Memorial Day, and the environment. Enjoy!

Free 7-Day Trial for TeacherVision®

Sign up for a free trial and get access
to our huge library of teaching materials!

Start Trial