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What is anthrax?

Anthrax is an infection caused by bacteria. The bacteria are found in soil and spread from animals to humans. Cutaneous anthrax, or skin infection, is the most common. Lung infection is rare and may develop if you breathe in the bacteria. Intestine infection is also rare and may develop if you eat food that contains the bacteria.

What increases my risk for anthrax?

  • Contact with infected animals, such as their hair or hides
  • Contact with the organism itself
  • Travel to or work in a high-risk area
  • Exposure during a bioterrorist event
  • Substance abuse

What are the signs and symptoms of anthrax?

You may have a fever, headache, muscle aches, or swollen glands with any of the 3 types of infection.

  • Skin infection:
    • Raised, itchy bump, like an insect bite
    • One or more blisters with swelling around them
    • Painless ulcer covered by a black scab
  • Lung infection:
    • Cough or trouble breathing
    • A cold sweat
    • Chest pain
    • Stiff neck
    • Confusion or dizziness
  • Intestine infection:
    • Severe sore throat
    • Vomiting blood
    • Loss of appetite
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • Blood in your bowel movement

How is anthrax diagnosed?

  • Blood tests will show the bacteria causing your infection.
  • A sample of an open sore or mucus you cough up may show the anthrax bacteria.
  • A chest x-ray or CT scan of your chest or abdomen may show signs of anthrax infection.

How is anthrax treated?

Antibiotics help treat the infection caused by anthrax bacteria. You may also need the anthrax vaccine.

How can I help prevent anthrax?

The anthrax vaccine helps prevent all forms of infection. The vaccine is recommended for people at higher risk for infection. This includes anyone who works directly with the bacteria, such as in a lab. Military personnel and anyone who travels to or works with animal hides or fur in high-risk areas should also be vaccinated. The vaccine is not recommended for anyone younger than 18 years.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a sudden, high fever.
  • Your symptoms do not go away or they get worse, even after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have severe shortness of breath.
  • Your abdomen is swollen, tender, and hard.
  • You have severe pain.
  • You vomit blood or have blood in your bowel movements.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.