Of course anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by Bacillus anthracis. But how common is anthrax and how is it transmitted?
Anthrax is mostly found in developing areas (second and third-world countries), especially in agricultural areas, where it is prevalent in animals. These areas include South and Central America, Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbeans, and the Middle East. Anthrax usually affects humans due to an occupational exposure to infected animals and their byproducts. Workers who are exposed to dead animals and animal products from other, less developed countries where the bacterium is more common may become infected with industrial anthrax. Anthrax outbreaks in the United States usually occur annually through livestock (such as cows) and wild game animals such as deer.
Anthrax infections can occur in three ways: cutaneous (skin infection), inhalation, and gastrointestinal. The bacterium's spores can live in the soil for an extended period, and humans can become infected with anthrax by handling animal products or by inhaling anthrax spores from contaminated animal products. The bacterium also spreads through the consumption of undercooked meat from infected animals, but it is rare to find an animal in the United States infected with anthrax.
Most cutaneous anthrax infections occur when the bacterial spore enters an abrasion on the skin, such as handling contaminated products of infected animals. Skin infections of anthrax begin as an itchy bump the looks like an insect bite, but within a day or tow, develops into a vesicle and then an ulcer with a black dying area in the center. Swelling of the surrounding tissues may develop and lymph glands in the area near the wound might swell. Around one out of five untreated cases of cutaneous anthrax will result in death.
Most inhalation anthrax infections seem like a common cold. After a few days, the symptoms may progress to severe breathing problems and shock. Inhalation anthrax is almost always fatal. About forty-five percent of inhalation cases were fatal in the bio-terrorist attack in the United States in the autumn of 2001, even with aggressive antibiotic and supportive therapy.
The intestinal disease form of anthrax may be the result of eating contaminated meat and is noted by an acute inflammation of the intestinal tract. Beginning symptoms of intestinal anthrax infection include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fevers are followed by pain in the abdominal area, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea. Other symptoms include lesions and soreness in the throat area, difficult swallowing, and marked swelling on the neck and lymph glands.