Anthrax is primarily an occupational disease identified with individuals exposed to dead animals and animal products. Until recent outbreaks, the incidence of anthrax in the United States has been extremely low with no cases of inhalation anthrax reported in the United States since 1978.

What is anthrax?

Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by a spore-forming bacterium (Bacillus anthracis). Three different types of anthrax can infect humans: inhalation, cutaneous and intestinal.


Anthrax is caused from a bacterium that forms spores. Each type of anthrax is contracted in a different way. The inhalation form of anthrax is contracted by breathing in spores from animal feces or when anthrax spores are used as a bioterrorist weapon. Cutaneous anthrax is spread by the contact of spores with a break in the skin, such as a scratch or abrasion. The intestinal form is caused by eating contaminated meat. Person to person transmission of anthrax is extremely rare and has only been reported with cutaneous anthrax.


Symptoms of inhalation anthrax are similar to early cold or flu symptoms. Muscle aches, sore throat, and a slight fever are signs of the initial stages of the disease. Later symptoms include chest discomfort, cough, shortness of breath, drowsiness and muscle aches. After the initial infection takes place, these symptoms for inhalation anthrax will be visible from approximately one week to 42 days.


If you think you may have anthrax you should call your health care professional immediately. Penicillin, doxycycline and cirprofloxacin are the three antibiotics recently approved to treat and prevent the development of anthrax in exposed individuals.