Bacillus Anthracis, more usually known as Anthrax, is a spore-based bacterium that has the capacity to infect all warm-blooded animals including humans. Fortunately, it is very uncommon for humans to become infected with this deadly bacteria. In almost all documented cases of Anthrax infection throughout history, the victim came into contact with an infected animal. In fact, the incidence rate is so small that it is listed as a ‘rare disease’ by the Office of Rare Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.
Anthrax is an occupational disease. It is normally found in agricultural regions around the world that contain livestock. Humans that contract the disease are usually workers who’re exposed to infected dead animals or animal products. Anthrax can is contracted by contact with an infected animal, inhalation of spores found in contaminated soil, or through consumption of undercooked and contaminated meat. Even though the disease can be contracted through these mediums, there’s been no evidence that person-to person transmission of Anthrax is possible.
This Could Lead To Other Ideas
Anthrax can infect you in three common ways: 1) Skin Contact (Cutaneous Anthrax), 3) Ingestion (Gastrointestinal Anthrax), and 2) Inhalation Anthrax.
Inhalation Anthrax is far and away the most deadly, of the three infectious pathways listed. Inhaled spores enter the lungs and begin to rapidly spread and kill the tissues that they infect. The infection begins with cold-like symptoms, but within seven days serious breathing problems, profuse perspiration, and cyanosis (blue colored skin) begin to occur. Shock and death occur following the symptoms within ten days. Almost all cases of inhalation Anthrax result in death regardless if treatment is given or not.
Gastrointestinal Anthrax affects the intestines and stomach. The symptoms of intestinal Anthrax include: inflammation of the intestinal tract, nausea, loss of appetite, emesis, fever followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhoea. Sixty percent of all untreated cases result in death.
The cutaneous form of Anthrax produces blister-like lesions that appear on the skin within 2 days of first contact. The lesions usually grow to about an inch wide and turn black. Fortunately, cutaneous anthrax is very often successfully treated. The cutaneous anthrax death rate is 20 percent without antibiotic treatment and less than one percent with it.
The diagnosis of Anthrax can be determined in many ways. Skin examinations, Blood cultures, and evidence of respiratory secretions are common methods. Other methods include x-rays of the chest, antibody measurements, and spinal taps. All three types of Anthrax are treated with antibiotics such as penicillin or tetracycline.
Fluid and blood sample may be sent to special laboratory for more testing, including PCR, immunohistochemistry, and immunofluorescence. Cutaneous anthrax is easily treated with antibiotics. People suffering from inhalation anthrax have a poor outlook even with antibiotics. Gastrointestinal anthrax may develop bloodstream, and may result in death. People who’ve been exposed to the infection but have no symptoms of disease, doctors may prescribe them the some preventive antibiotics depending upon the strain of anthrax like ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, and penicillin.
Call your health care professional if you’re exposed to the anthrax and if you develop symptoms of anthrax.
Anthrax can be prevented with a vaccine. Vaccination typically occurs during a period of 18 months with a booster shot given every year. Those in the military and the people who work around livestock are the only people who need to be vaccinated. The vaccine is a cell-free filtrate vaccine; this meant that it contains no dead or live bacteria in the preparation. Many people in the armed forces are opposed to taking the vaccine because of possible adverse responses to the it as well as the fact that the long-term side effects are not well known. The most common adverse responses to the vaccine are extensive swelling of the forearm and acute cold-like symptoms. The vaccine is about ninety-three percent effective in protecting against cutaneous Anthrax and intestinal Anthrax. It isn’t known if the vaccine is effective against inhalation Anthrax because it hasn’t been tested yet.
At present there are two candidate vaccines which have been tested in non-human primates. Both vaccines are recombinant protein vaccines. Phase I (safety) trials of these vaccines are now on a ‘fast track’ and are projected to start within the weeks to come within the United States. These new vaccines will need to be tested carefully for safety and dose schedules (phase I and II trials) in healthy non-infected subjects and subsequently in endemic areas for effectiveness. If these vaccines move quickly through early studies and are found to be safe, there will be intense pressure to move them quickly into use in West Africa. This creates an ethical dilemma in that unless they’re tested against a placebo group (which may be unethical to use in this outbreak), we may not definitively know if the vaccine is actually working.
Scientific advances in the immune response to infections, the knowledge of the pathogens themselves, and other vaccine candidates (as studied by UVM faculty in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, The Vermont Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and Vaccine Testing Center, respectively) ultimately permit the creation of safer and more effective vaccines and therapeutic agents. In 2014, we have a substantially larger toolkit for designing and testing vaccines, including the utilization of recombinant protein, virus, and DNA-like particle technology, as well as complex immunophenotyping techniques to assess adequacy of the immune response following vaccination.
Anthrax is an ideal bacterium for use as a biological weapon for a period of at least four reasons. First, it is so easy to grow in large quantities. Second, the spores can be dry-stored for years without losing their effectiveness. (Anthrax spores can not be destroyed by steam sterilization or burning, not by disinfectants.) Third, it is highly incapacitating and fatal to its victims. And four, it can be implemented without no obvious signs of an attack; there is no cloud or colored vapor, nor is there any smell or taste. Since Anthrax is so suitable to use as a weapon, it isn’t surprising that it has been used in several terrorist attacks around the world in recent years.