Anthrax Infection

What is it?

  • Anthrax is a bacteria that may cause serious sickness or death. There are three types of anthrax infection that affect human beings.

    • Inhalational anthrax infection, which is infection in the lungs.

    • Cutaneous anthrax infection, which is infection of the skin.

    • Intestinal anthrax infection, which is infection in the intestines.

  • Anthrax has been around for a long time. It is usually found in soil. Wild animals or farm animals may get anthrax from food that is contaminated with anthrax bacteria. People may be exposed to anthrax from contaminated animals or animal products. The bacteria can survive for years as spores. Anthrax spores are an inactive form of the bacteria. They can become active again, and cause infection.

  • Anthrax infection is normally very rare. It usually takes thousands of spores to cause an infection.

Is the anthrax infection contagious?

Anthrax infection is not contagious. You cannot get the anthrax infection from another person. There is no reason to separate someone who may have an anthrax infection from other people.

What are the symptoms of inhalational anthrax infection?

Inhalational anthrax infection is the most serious. Inhalational anthrax causes death more often than other kinds of anthrax infection. Symptoms may begin between 1 and 6 days after contact. The spores are inhaled and become active. The bacteria then produces toxins. These toxins cause bleeding and damage to the inside of the chest and the lungs. Early symptoms of inhalation anthrax include:

  • Chest pain.

  • Cough.

  • Fever.

  • Headache.

  • Muscle aches.
Later symptoms of inhalational anthrax include:
  • Confusion.

  • Continued fever.

  • Dizziness.

  • Stiff neck.

  • Trouble breathing.

  • Unable to stay awake.

  • Weakness.

What are the symptoms of cutaneous anthrax infection?

Cutaneous anthrax infection is not likely to cause death unless it is not treated. The spores enter the body through an opening in the skin, like a cut or scratch. Symptoms usually start 1 to 7 days after contact.

  • Early symptoms include:

    • Raised, itchy bump, like an insect bite.

    • One or more blisters.

    • Swelling around the blisters.

  • Later symptoms include:

    • A painless ulcer covered by a black, hard scab.

    • Fever.

    • Headache.

    • Swollen glands.

What are the symptoms of intestinal anthrax infection?

Intestinal anthrax infection may also cause death. It is caused by eating food that is not cooked enough with anthrax spores in it. Symptoms usually start 2 to 5 days after contact.

  • Early symptoms include:

    • Fever.

    • Loss of appetite.

    • Nausea.

    • Vomiting.

  • Later symptoms include:

    • Abdominal pain.

    • Severe diarrhea.

    • Vomiting blood.

How can I tell the difference between the flu and anthrax?

Many of the symptoms of early anthrax infection and the flu (influenza) are similar. The following are common symptoms of the flu:

  • Fever.

  • Headache.

  • Lack of energy.

  • Muscle aches.

  • Runny nose.

  • Sore throat.

  • Watery eyes.
  • If you have a cold or flu, you may be sick for 1 to 2 weeks. You will gradually get better. Symptoms of anthrax usually get worse quickly after 4-5 days. Symptoms of anthrax usually do not include watery eyes, runny nose, or sore throat.

How is anthrax infection diagnosed?

  • A blood test can be done to see if there are antibodies in the blood. Antibodies are produced by your body to fight the infection. It may take a few hours to several days to get the results of the tests.

  • Your doctor may check a culture of your blood. If you have a sore on your skin, a piece of the sore may be removed and checked. If you are coughing mucous from your lungs, it can be tested. Samples are looked at under a microscope to check for anthrax bacteria.

How is anthrax infection treated?

Anthrax infection is treated with antibiotics. There are several antibiotics available that can treat anthrax infections. Early treatment is very important, especially for inhalation anthrax.

Is there a vaccine to prevent anthrax infection?

There is a vaccine (shot) to help prevent anthrax infection. The vaccine can be given before or after a person is exposed to anthrax. Only some people should get the vaccine without having been exposed to anthrax. This includes people who do special work in a lab, people in the military and certain others. After having been exposed to anthrax, the vaccine may be given to all adults. The vaccine is not recommended for children up to age 18 except in special cases.

Where can I find support and more information?

You may be afraid you will get the anthrax infection. You may feel angry and upset. You may think you have no control. These feelings are normal. Talk to your caregiver, family, or friends about your feelings. Let them help you. Contact the following for more information:

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    1600 Clifton Road
    Atlanta , GA 30333
    Phone: 1- 404 - 6393311
    Phone: 1- 800 - 3113435
    Web Address:

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