Anthrax

What is anthrax?
Anthrax is a very serious acute infectious disease that is caused by a bacterium known as Bacillus anthracis. It is primarily a disease found in sheep, goats, cattle and swine. Humans can acquire the disease directly or indirectly from infected animals or animal products.
What are the symptoms of anthrax?

There are three different types of anthrax in humans, including cutaneous anthrax, inhalation anthrax and gastrointestinal anthrax.

Cutaneous Anthrax is acquired through the skin and is characterized by itchiness at the affected area, followed by the appearance of a small sore that develops into a blister. The blister then develops into a skin ulcer with a black area in the centre. The sore, blister and ulcer do not hurt, however fever, headache and malaise may be present. More than 95% of human cases worldwide are cutaneous anthrax.

Inhalation Anthrax is acquired from breathing in the bacteria. It begins with influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough and malaise. After several days the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock. If antibiotics are not started soon enough, inhalation anthrax is lethal.   

Gastrointestinal Anthrax is acquired from eating contaminated food. It causes abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Gastrointestinal anthrax is rare and difficult to recognize.

How do you get anthrax?
Anthrax is acquired by handling products from infected animals or by breathing in anthrax from infected animal products, such as wool. People can become infected with gastrointestinal anthrax by eating undercooked meat from infected animals. Anthrax can also be transmitted intentionally as a bioterrorism weapon.

Is anthrax contagious?

Person to person transmission of anthrax is very rare. 
Is anthrax dangerous?
In most cases, early treatment with antibiotics can cure cutaneous anthrax. Inhalation and gastrointestinal anthrax are more severe. Anthrax is treatable in the early stages of disease, however fatality rates remain high if antibiotics are started after the onset of respiratory symptoms.
Is there treatment for anthrax?

All three types of anthrax can be treated with several common antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin, doxycyline or penicillin. It is important that antibiotics be started right away, as a delay in treatment lowers a person's chance of survival. The antibiotics must be taken according to the directions and for as many days as directed, generally up to 60 days, to ensure adequate treatment is achieved.

For further information call Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744, visit OttawaPublicHealth.ca or one of the websites listed below:

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