Anthrax is a life-threatening infection.
There are 3 types depending on where it enters the body:
Once anthrax is in the body, it multiplies and releases toxins. They cause swelling, bleeding, and tissue death. All forms of anthrax can cause death, but inhaled anthrax is the most fatal.
Anthrax Can Enter the Body Through the Lungs
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Certain bacteria and its spores cause anthrax. The spores can survive for decades in the environment. Bacteria and spores are in soil and livestock such as cattle and goats. It’s rare, but people can get anthrax from:
Your chances of anthrax are higher if you:
Symptoms start within a few days after infection. They vary based on how anthrax entered the body.
Inhalation anthrax symptoms come in stages over many days. It may start with feelings of a cold or the flu:
You may feel better for a short time before a rapid onset of:
Cutaneous symptoms may come in stages:
Gastrointestinal symptoms can be in the mouth, throat, or intestines.
In the mouth or throat:
In the intestines:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. This will contain questions about how you had contact with anthrax. You may have:
Public health officials will work quickly to find the source of anthrax. Anthrax testing and antibiotics can help to prevent infection in other people.
Care will start right away and will involve:
Anthrax has no color, odor, or taste. If you think you came in contact with it, seek medical care right away.
To lower your chances of anthrax:
There is a vaccine, but military personnel use it. It requires several doses and is only partially effective.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Military Health System
Public Health Agency of Canada
Anthrax. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114804/Anthrax . Updated January 24, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2018.
Anthrax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/anthrax. Updated January 31, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2018.
Anthrax. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/infectious-diseases/gram-positive-bacilli/anthrax. Updated September 2017. Accessed May 15, 2018.
Wright JG, Quinn CP, Shadomy S, Messonnier N, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Use of anthrax vaccine in the United States: recommendations of the advisory committee on immunization practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep. 2010;59(RR-6):1-30.
5/12/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114804/Anthrax : Bradley JS, Peacock G, Krug SE, et al. Pediatric anthrax clinical management. Pediatrics. 2014;133(5):e1411-e1436.
Last reviewed May 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 5/15/2018