Questions & Answers About Anthrax - Adventist HealthCare

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News Release

Media Contact: Tom Grant

Published on November 13, 2001

Press Release

Questions & Answers About Anthrax

Given the recent cases of anthrax in the United States, and the potential of anthrax to be used as an agent in biological warfare, it’s natural for people to have questions about this disease.

The following information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the lead federal agency for protecting the health and safety of Americans, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Q: What is anthrax?
A: Anthrax is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It most often occurs in wild and domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, camels and antelope. Anthrax can also occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals or tissue from infected animals, or to anthrax spores.

Q: How is it transmitted?
A: Anthrax is transmitted three ways: through a cut in the skin exposed to the bacterium (cutaneous), by eating undercooked infected meat (intestinal) and by inhaling anthrax spores.

Q: What are the symptoms of anthrax?
A: Symptoms vary depending on how the disease was contracted. For cutaneous (skin) anthrax, infection begins as a raised itchy bump similar to an insect bite. Within one or two days it becomes blisterlike, and then it turns into a painless open sore with a black area in the center. Lymph glands near the infection may swell. Left untreated, about 20 percent of these cases result in death. With proper antibiotic treatment, however, death is rare.

For intestinal anthrax, initial signs include nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and fever, followed by abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and vomiting of blood. Intestinal anthrax results in death in 25 percent to 60 percent of cases.

With inhaled anthrax, symptoms are much like a common cold and may mimic the flu. However, several hours to several days later they worsen to severe breathing problems and shock. Inhalation anthrax is often fatal.

Q: Are flu shots recommended as a way to reduce a person’s chances for symptoms that could be confused with anthrax infection?
A: No. The reason for a flu shot is to prevent the flu, not for any reasons to do with anthrax, the CDC advises.
People at high risk for complications from the flu should be sure to get a shot every fall. This includes people 65 and older, those who live in nursing homes or other chronic-care facilities, and adults and children with chronic health problems such as asthma, kidney disease, heart disease and diabetes. The best time to get a flu shot is in either October or November. Delivery of some of the vaccine supply is delayed this year. People who will get the greatest benefit from the shots should receive them first. Others should wait until November, when supplies are more plentiful, the CDC advises. It’s not too late to get a flu shot even in December.

Q: Is anthrax contagious?
A: Anthrax is not spread from person to person.

Q: How is anthrax diagnosed?
A: Doctors isolate the anthrax bacterium from the blood, skin lesions or respiratory secretions. They can also measure specific antibodies in the blood of people suspected to be infected.

Q: Can anthrax be treated?
A: Doctors can prescribe effective antibiotics. For best results, treatment should start early. People who think they’ve been infected with anthrax should seek immediate medical care. The CDC advises doctors not to prescribe antibiotics in anticipation of an outbreak. In the event of mass exposure to anthrax, the CDC would dispense antibiotics in a coordinated effort with appropriate health care organizations.
Indiscriminate prescription of antibiotics could reduce the supply of the drug and speed the development of drug-resistant organisms. People should not buy and store their own antibiotics, the CDC says.

Q: Is there an anthrax vaccine?
A: A protective vaccine has been developed for anthrax. However, it is not available to the general public at this time. It is recommended only for those at high risk for infection. This includes people who work directly with anthrax in the laboratory and members of the military deployed to high-risk areas.

Q: Where can I get more information?
A: The CDC provides anthrax information at

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