Anthrax

ANTHRAX mask

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is Anthrax?

Anthrax is a rare and potentially fatal infectious disease. The pathogen responsible for it is a bacterium known as Bacillus anthracis. Often, it is herbivores like common livestock animals that tend to suffer from anthrax, although it is not unheard of in other animals. Humans acquire the pathogen either through contact with infected animals or through contact with or ingestion of contaminated animal products. Those who exhibit the symptoms of anthrax are at a risk of developing pneumonia or sepsis and may even die.

 

What Causes It?

ANTHRAX researchWhen it is present within a living body, often that of a livestock animal such as a cow, sheep or goat, the bacterium is active and can multiply. When these bacteria are shed from the body of the infected animal and come into contact with the external environment, they turn into spores. A bacterial spore is the inactive state of the bacterium. In this form, the bacterium does not present a threat. These spores can persist in the soil for extended periods of time since they are resilient and capable of surviving high temperatures and extreme environmental conditions. They can even survive radiation up to a certain extent. When they re-enter living bodies of animals or humans either through contact, inhalation or ingestion, these spores become reactivated and the bacteria will once again have the potential to give rise to disease.

 

How Do Humans Acquire This Disease?

The mechanisms of transmission of anthrax are not very well understood. However, certain broad patterns are clearly identifiable. Cases of anthrax in humans occur through three potential pathways. These are the cutaneous, oral (ingestion) and inhalational pathways of exposure. In other words, you could potentially acquire the bacterium by touching the source of contamination, eating contaminated material or breathing in airborne spores. Cutaneous exposure accounts for the majority of anthrax cases in humans. It generally occurs when anthrax spores enter the body through cuts, breaks or sores in the skin, often while interacting with infected animals or handling contaminated animal parts such as hides or bones. Cutaneous anthrax may also be transmitted through insect bites and flies are often implicated in large-scale outbreaks of the disease.

 

How Do Symptoms Arise After Exposure?

ANTHRAX maskSymptoms do not manifest immediately upon exposure. The space of time between exposure and onset of symptoms is called the incubation period. Once within the body, the bacterium becomes active and displays an ingenious method of circumventing the body’s natural defenses. Normally, macrophages (a type of white blood cell) are responsible for clearing away foreign matter, cellular debris, and pathogens. They do this by engulfing the foreign matter and breaking it down. This process is known as phagocytosis. The anthrax bacterium produces a polypeptide capsule that allows it to avoid being disabled by means of phagocytosis. Further, the bacterium produces substances called endotoxins that give rise to symptoms of the disease.

 

What Are The Different Types of Anthrax And Their Respective Symptoms?

Not all cases of anthrax exposure necessarily end up in symptomatic disease. According to the World Health Organisation, humans generally display a moderate level of resistance to this microbe. There are three major routes by which the bacterium can invade a human body. The nature of symptoms depends on which of these pathways is involved. These are discussed below.

  • Cutaneous Anthrax. This is the most common form of anthrax in humans. In such instances, the incubation period can vary from as little as a few hours to about 3 weeks from the date of exposure. Typically, exposed stretches of skin will develop swelling and lesions where the tissue has suffered damage as a result of necrosis. Endotoxins released by the bacteria are responsible for causing tissue necrosis. This can be treated effectively by means of antibiotics if caught early enough. Otherwise, the disease can be fatal.
  • Pulmonary Anthrax as a result of exposure via inhalation. In such cases, it may be about 4 to 6 days before onset of symptoms but it could also take as long as 10 days for this to occur. In the initial stages of the disease, symptoms are rather non-specific and can mimic those of influenza. The patient will normally exhibit symptoms such as fever or chills, headache, cough, sweats, muscle aches and weakness. As the disease progresses, patients may also experience nausea or vomiting, diarrhea and mental confusion. An excess of fluid could potentially build up between the pleural membranes and the lungs, affecting the patient’s ability to breathe. Eventually, the bacteria spill over into the bloodstream at which point the patient could develop potentially life-threatening blood poisoning.
  • Oropharyngeal symptoms due to ingestion of spores. This is one potential outcome of oral exposure through ingestion of spores present in contaminated meat. The patient will develop lesions that remain largely localized to the oral cavity or pharyngeal wall. Other symptoms include a sore throat, difficulty in swallowing and lymphadenopathy. As the disease worsens, the patient will likely develop a swollen neck and the chest wall may also be affected similarly.
  • Gastrointestinal Anthrax as a result of ingestion of spores. Again, this form of disease develops as a consequence of eating insufficiently cooked or contaminated meat from an infected animal. The incubation period ranges from a few days to a week. As the name suggests, the main site to be affected is the digestive system and lesions can develop anywhere along the length of the gastrointestinal tract. Hence, the patient will exhibit fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. As the disease advances, the patient may also notice blood in the watery stools. There is a high risk of the bacteria subsequently invading the bloodstream and setting off a widespread inflammatory response giving rise to sepsis.

 

What Are The Possible Complications?

Anthrax mailIf diagnosed early enough, it is possible to treat the patient effectively with antibiotics. However, in the event that the disease escalates, there can be a number of severe complications. For one, the patient may develop meningitis. As a result, he or she may display a high fever, vomiting and altered mental state. Another potential critical outcome is blood poisoning or sepsis. This happens because of an immune reaction to the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream. This can lead to organ failure, coma and death if it is not treated promptly. Delay in obtaining a correct diagnosis is more likely in instances of non-cutaneous disease. Hence, the associated risk of mortality is high in such cases.   

 

How Is It Diagnosed?

Since the symptoms vary as per the specific variant of the disease, the necessary means of diagnosis will typically vary. However, in all instances, the patient will be asked for their medical history and a description of symptoms from the time of the first onset. In the case of cutaneous disease, the presentation is difficult to differentiate from that of more common conditions. Similarly, early signs of both pulmonary and gastrointestinal disease are rather non-specific. If the physician suspects anthrax, it would be necessary to determine the mode of exposure. Culturing samples of fluid obtained from skin lesions help to clarify the identity of the pathogen. Similarly, stool, blood, sputum, pulmonary effusions or even cerebrospinal fluid will need to be examined as the case may be. Diagnostic imaging of areas such as the chest, brain and GI tract will help identify complications such as pleural effusion and meningitis.

 

Treatment & Prevention

An antibiotic course for around 2 months (60 days) is considered to be the standard treatment for anthrax. The antibiotic course comprises drugs such as doxycycline or ciprofloxacin.

The choice of drugs mainly depends on the factors such as the patient’s age, mode of infection, overall health etc. Infection treated promptly usually has a good outlook.

Some cases of advanced inhalation anthrax do not respond to antibiotics as the number of toxins produced exceeds the amount that the drugs can successfully eliminate.

  • Antitoxin therapies- Focused research on antitoxin therapies initiated after the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States. The antitoxin therapy aims at eliminating the toxins rather than killing the bacteria. These medications are still being studied.
  • Surgical intervention– Surgical removal of the infected tissue was done in some of the cases where patients got the infection by an injection.

As per the information furnished by the World Health Organization, a vaccine is available to prevent the anthrax infection. However, meticulous testing of the vaccine in human trials has not yet been done. In some cases, the vaccine is given to an individual who might contract occupational exposure to the infection (such as military personnel, tannery workers etc.). The vaccine is unavailable for the purpose of mass immunization.

Prevention of the anthrax infection can be done through vaccination in the individuals at the risk of exposure to the bacteria. 3 doses of the vaccine are required.

Avoiding contact with livestock and animal skin in endemic regions is important to prevent the spread of the infection.

 

Facts

  • Inhaling anthrax spores is the only method of getting the inhalation anthrax infection. It is the most dangerous form of the disease.

Facts

  • The most recent outbreak of anthrax was in Siberia, Russia, in the year 2016. The infection took a toll on the lives of 2,000 reindeer and made at least 13 Siberian individuals ill.
  • The anthrax spores can survive in the soil for a duration of around 48 years.

Facts

  • Robert Koch (a German physician and scientist), proved the anthrax bacterium to be the cause of the illness affecting the farm animals in his community.
  • The incubation period of the infection is usually from 1 to 5 days. However, it can extend up to several weeks.

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Dos and Don'ts

Dos
  • Get vaccinated if you are at high risk of getting exposed to the infection.
  • Take the complete dose of antibiotics even if the symptoms clear off.
  • Do not ignore symptoms such as headaches, myalgia (muscle pain), reddish-brown raised spots on the skin, fever, chills, sore throat etc ( which are indicative of this disease).
Don'ts
  • Resort to self-medication. Antibiotics should be administered only after prescribed by a registered medical practitioner.
  • Handle the mail or package suspected of contamination with the anthrax spores.

 

 

 

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6 arguments in favour of glucosamine and where can you find it Studies have shown that glucosamine works by preventing the breakdown of cartilage of the joints. This is usually…
Bronchoscopy procedure
Bronchoscopy Bronchoscopy is a procedure where in a scope is inserted into the lung pathway to observe any growth…
LFT-test
Liver Function Test – LFT LFT or Liver Function Test is a blood test used to determine the levels of hepatic enzymes which…
dengue-test
Dengue NS1 test Dengue NS1 is a blood test used to determine the onset of dengue fever. Dengue fever is transmitted…
PROLACTIN-(PRL)
Prolactin Test (PRL) Prolactin or PRL is a lactogenic hormone produced to induce milk production in lactating mothers. PRL test measures…
EMA antibodies
Endomysial Antibodies (EMA) Test EMA test is an investigative blood examination to locate the presence of certain antibodies, called Endomysial antibodies or…
apolipoprotein a1 test
Apolipoprotein -A1 (APO-A1) Test Apolipoprotein A-I (Apo-A1) constitutes 70% of protein content in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and helps in lipid metabolism.
dhea adrenal
Androstenedione Test Androstenedione is produced by the adrenal gland, the test of the levels of Androstenedione helps in the evaluation…
occupational hazards types
Occupational Hazards: How to vouch for your health at your workplace Occupational hazards affect millions worldwide. Chemical spills, faulty wires, deadly pathogen, and work-stress can happen anytime. Follow these…
black seed oil benefits
Black Seed Oil: What secret benefits could it bestow on your health? Black seeds or nigella seeds are tiny packets of health brimming with amazing benefits. Find out why should…
Psyllium Husk: More than just an effective natural laxative Psyllium husk, or isabgol, is a popular natural laxative . But did you in addition to regulating bowels,…
How can berberine supplements help you live longer and healthier? Berberine is a turmeric look-alike herbal extract that is credited with numerous health benefits ranging from diabetes cure…
Find all the instant ways to get rid of blackheads Blackheads - Not only are they aesthetically unappealing but if left untreated these can cause bacterial overgrowth on…
Hydroquinone: Is it the best topical treatment for hyperpigmentation? Darkening of the skin due to high melanin levels is called hyperpigmentation.  Hydroquinone interferes with melanin production thus treating…
The Cabbage Soup Diet: The healthiest way to instant weight loss Cabbage soup diet rapid weight loss diet for those who want to shed those extra pounds in less…
Top reasons why you need to pay attention to your vitamin B6 intake Vitamin B6- An essential water-soluble vitamin. Its deficiency leads to physical changes such as sores & glossy tongue…
PROSTATE-SPECIFIC-ANTIGEN
Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test Prostate specific antigen test is a blood test used to determine the presence of prostate cancer or any…
biopsy procedure
Biopsy Biopsy is a procedure of studying a live tissue sample collected from a specific organ for diagnosing a…
beta 2 glycoprotein 1 IgG
Beta 2 Glycoprotein 1 IgG Beta 2 glycoprotein 1 antibody test involves detecting and measuring the presence of the IgG class of beta…
lp-pla2
LP-PLA2 Test The LP-PLA2 test is a test which is carried out to assess the levels of Lipoprotein-Associated Phospholipase A2…
AUTOIMMUNE HEPATITIS liver
Hepatitis Profile A hepatitis profile or a hepatitis panel is a blood test that checks for markers of hepatitis infection…
stress depressed anxiety
Are you depressed or just stressed? Know when to see a doctor Why are some people more anxious than others? Is being depressed the same as feeling sad? Have you…
Serotonin happiness
Serotonin: What you didn’t know about this “feel-good” chemical Serotonin : Did you know that this "feel-good" hormone could well impact your sleep cycle, sex drive, appetite,…
Bulletproof coffee recipe
Bulletproof Coffee – Breakfast of champions or yet another health fad? Can this special ketogenic coffee really make your body race as fast as a bullet?