Anthrax - From Russia with Love
This article recounts the chilling, yet fascinating story of the deadliest outbreak of anthrax in recorded history. Anthrax is a bacterium (germ) that can cause a serious, sometimes fatal infection. Anthrax can be used as a weapon. In 2001, anthrax was spread through the mail in a powder. Twenty-two people were infected. The events that occurred in Sverdlovsk, Russia, in 1979 demonstrate what can happen when anthrax is released into the air.
- Anthrax is an infection by bacteria transmitted from animals.
- Anthrax causes skin, lung, and bowel disease and can be deadly.
- Anthrax is diagnosed by cultures from infected tissues.
- Anthrax is treated by antibiotics.
- Anthrax can be prevented.
- Sadly, the greatest threat of anthrax today is through a bioterrorist attack.
- Federal, state, and local agencies are working hard to deal with this bioterrorist threat.
What is anthrax?
Anthrax is a life-threatening infectious disease that normally affects animals, especially ruminants (such as goats, cattle, sheep, and horses). Anthrax can be transmitted to humans by contact with infected animals or their products. In recent years, anthrax has received a great deal of attention as it has become clear that the infection can also be spread by a bioterrorist attack or by biological warfare. Anthrax does not spread from person to person.
What causes anthrax?
The agent of anthrax is a bacterium called Bacillus anthracis. While other investigators discovered the anthrax bacillus, it was a German physician and scientist, Dr. Robert Koch, who proved that the anthrax bacterium was the cause of a disease that affected farm animals in his community. Under the microscope, the bacteria look like large rods. However, in the soil, where they live, anthrax organisms exist in a dormant form called spores. These spores are very hardy and difficult to destroy. The spores have been known to survive in the soil for as long as 48 years.
How is anthrax contracted?
Anthrax can infect humans in three ways. The most common is infection through the skin, which causes an ugly sore that usually goes away without treatment. Humans and animals can ingest anthrax from carcasses of dead animals that have been contaminated with anthrax. Ingestion of anthrax can cause serious, sometimes fatal disease. The most deadly form is inhalation anthrax. If the spores of anthrax are inhaled, they migrate to lymph glands in the chest where they proliferate, spread, and produce toxins that often cause death.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/18/2015