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  • Information About Anthrax

    Posted on March 25th, 2010 Patricia No comments

    What is anthrax?

    Anthrax is a spore-forming bacteria known as bacillus anthracis that infects both domesticated and wild herbivore animals such as cattle, sheep, or goats. There are three forms of this disease: cutaneous, inhalation, and gastrointestinal.

    The cutaneous, or skin infection form of the disease is the most common type of anthrax and is caused by handling infected material from an animal such as hides, hair, or wool. It usually enters through a cut in the skin near the face, neck, or arms where they are exposed and can take two to seven days to incubate. At first the exposed skin area will itch, with a small bump occurring; this becomes filled with fluid and eventually forms an ulcer with a black (necrotic) center. Swelling of the lymph glands under the arm can also occur as the disease advances. This form is highly treatable with antibiotics; if it is not treated, 1 in 20 individuals will die from it.

    Respiratory anthrax is normally caused by inhaling spore-laden dust near areas where material from infected animals is handled. It has symptoms that can resemble a cold or flu, including fever, chills, cough, mild chest pain, and shortness of breath. This form must be treated quickly with antibiotics in order to arrest the disease, which can progress to shock, respiratory problems, and even death within 3 to 5 days if the disease is untreated. The survival rate is higher if the person is treated early and aggressively with antibiotics after exposure.

    Intestinal anthrax is usually caused by eating undercooked meat from infected animals. The symptoms resemble food poisoning, and include nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea and can progress to vomiting blood. It causes mortality in about half of the people who contract it, but it rarely occurs in humans.

    Normally human cases of anthrax are very rare in the United States (1/100,000) since the number of infected livestock is almost nonexistent due to mandatory vaccination against this disease. It is more common in areas such as Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, African, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South and Central America.

    How is it treated?

    The antibiotics penicillin and doxycycline are used to treat anthrax, but Cipro is the current FDA approved medication to treat post-exposure to inhalation anthrax, the most deadly form of the disease.

    There is also a vaccine created by Biosport Corporation which has been available since 1970. It is 93% effective in protecting humans against anthrax, and is currently available to people considered at high risk for infection: workers in laboratories with occupational exposure, veterinarians and animal handlers who must work oversees in countries that contain infected animals, and military personnel who are deployed in countries that have this biological warfare capability.

    The vaccine must be given at least four weeks before initial exposure to be effective. The immunization consists of three injections given under the skin, given 2 weeks apart, then followed by three other injections given at 6, 12, and 18 months. Annual boosters of the vaccine are recommended after the initial course of vaccination

    If a person is exposed to anthrax, they will be given the vaccine, then started on an immediate course of antibiotics to help prevent the disease or make its course less serious.

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